Language, or more specifically the use of words within different contexts, fascinates me. Take, for instance, a report in the newspapers last week.

I was particularly struck by an expression used within the body of the text for an article headlining ‘Some England Riot Sentences 'Too Severe'’, The statement read: ‘Following the rioting that swept through the capital, the Metropolitan Police announced that it has charged 1,005 people after 1,733 arrests. The force has a target of 3,000 convictions.’

What a strange statement: ‘a target of 3000 convictions’. The dictionary defines target as ‘a desired goal.’

Surely, to the layman such as myself, if arrests have been made, one would assume that they had been done so on the basis that there was a body of evidence sufficient to indict the person. Of course, when that evidence is presented and challenged within the court, and circumstances considered, not all cases will result in prosecution - here the Met have achieved a successful prosecution rate of 58%, to date.

Naturally, there must be many, many more arrests to come to achieve a target of 3000 convictions as there has only been 1733 at the time of print. But, I repeat, why use the word ‘target’ here.

Had the police suggested that they wished to see a ‘higher level of prosecution success’ or intended to ‘do all they can to see justice is done’ or ‘aimed to bring as many of the perpetrators of the violence as possible to face the consequences’ then I could have understood their intentions.

However, these outcomes are against a backcloth of open criticism towards both the police for the manner in which they handled the disturbances and towards the courts for the severity of sentencing (as well as a level of support for the sentencing.) We hear that, of the arrests in connection with the riots, 64% of suspects had been remanded in custody. In 2010 the remand rate at magistrates for serious offences was 10%.

Against such a backcloth, the language of ‘target’ would imply, to me, a determination in the attitude of the police to be seen to be strong, suggesting an aspect of retribution rather than justice. Could this be construed as a subliminal signal to suggest that, if the courts don’t achieve this level of conviction, that the police are not to blame?

Lord McNally, Liberal Democrat Justice Minister, said the courts must operate independently and warned, "it's dangerous when (others) try to do the sentencing". He said politicians make the laws, police do the arresting and judges do the judging and sentencing.

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