It only rains on the righteous

news: It only rains on the righteous

Judy Sharp reflects on life and her world – as she sees it.

How many times recently has it rained? Hardly at all: not nearly enough. But rain it did on the evening when retiring British Consul, Roger Nuttall, and his wife Colette hosted a farewell get-together of colleagues and friends at their home. Instead of drinkies on the lawn, it was squashies under the sheltered terrace! But there we go, the typical British “never say die” spirit got us through!

Apart from catching up with people I had not seen for a long time, the evening was a reminder to me of the cross section of the British community here in the Algarve. People who have been here since before the Revolution and have seen the region change so much and people who work so hard for the community in one way or another, as well asthose who represent the business life here. We really are a mixed bunch, and being huddled together to escape from the much needed rain only emphasised that point!

I spent some time talking to one of the Portuguese guests there, a leading police officer, and I asked him about the increase in crime, especially robberies, in the Algarve. He made some very valid points and quoted some interesting examples.In his opinion, unemployment, alcoholism and drugs are at the root of this current increase in robberies. He does not blame only the immigrants – as many people are quick to do – but does point out that, in established communities, family and friends will generally help someone ‘in need’. Many of the immigrants do not have that support network, and their wages are so poor that there is precious little to give to anyone else, especially in the long term.

Why are tourists hit so frequently? Easy. Because, by the time the case gets to court, the tourists are long gone, and generally are not inclined to come back to attend the court case. I was told that, just recently, a couple of men were caught who have been responsible for their own mini crime wave. But without the witnesses to confirm that they were, indeed, robbed, the prosecution case is considerably weakened.

A recent feature in Expresso newspaper looked at crime processing rates in various European countries. Portugal was, not surprisingly, one of the countries where it takes longest for a case to run from start to finish: this is as disheartening for the police as it is for the public, especially when the punishment very often does not fit the crime, or when the accused gets off on a technicality.

I think most foreigners could identify several key areas where the whole justice system could be speeded up here. Cutting the holiday times for judges from two months to one month will do something, I guess, but there are other, more practical steps which should cut the waiting time at a stroke. Most of us have been called as a witness in a court case at some time – often you are just summoned without even knowing what the process is, which makes the situation very strange! You turn up at court – having to arrange a day off work, or someone to look after the kids, or perhaps you have had to travel a long distance. And then what happens? The defendant doesn’t turn up! So, instead of hearing the case in his absence, everyone is sent away again; what a waste of time, effort and money!

I have been told of various individuals with very long lists of court cases against them who use this ruse with regularity – don’t turn up, don’t turn up and then settle out of court the day before the third and final hearing. The sheer waste of public funds, the inconvenience to all concerned – these are irrelevant, of course. My single suggestion would be to cut that out. Everyone has to turn up on the set day and the set time. Unless there is a very, very good reason for any one of the key people not to be there, the case is heard, and judgment passed, first time round.

Knowing that the case will be heard in months rather than years, and knowing that the penalty will be tough, would – I feel – be deterrents in themselves. But the other side of that coin is that the public – you and me – have a responsibility to report crime, to take an active part in the process. In reporting the crime, and allowing the police to put it on their records, you are helping them to build a picture of what is happening on their patch. I know that much should be done to improve police response and customer relations, but, on the other hand, how can a local police chief ask for more resources when he only has half a dozen reported crimes on his books?

As the raindrops dripped off the awning that sheltered us on the terrace, I was reminded about the part we all play in our community, whether we realise it or not. And I was reminded of the important role of the Consul and his team, who are never thought of until there is a crisis, an emergency, another mess to sort out. I for one will miss Roger and Colette Nuttall, and I would like to wish them – on behalf of the British community – every happiness, now that they have time to relax and enjoy life!