Dominic Lawson on the death penalty, in the Sindy:
…what about the victim’s families?
Should the state have no particular concern for them? Legally, all crime in this country is an offence not against people, but against the Queen’s Justice. In practice, however, every crime is committed against a specific individual, or group of people. When those people seek justice, they mean something very specific. In the case of murder it may well seem unjust to them that the criminal will inevitably end up better off than the victim. One day he will be released from prison, and smell the air that, for example, their son or daughter has been forever denied.
Quite possibly so. However, it might well also frequently seem unjust to some bereaved families that the person who, through his dangerous driving, was responsible for their son or daughter’s death should not only continue to ‘smell the air that… their son or daughter has been forever denied’ but only be sentenced to three or four years in the first place (which is about the standard tariff unless there are serious aggravating features). For some people, at least at the time, no sentence would seem adequate to provide what might seem justice; indeed, it’s difficult to see how any sentence can do in the sense of going any way to redressing the loss.
What would also certainly seem unjust is a situation in which the penalty depended, even in part, on how forgiving or how vengeful were the grieving relatives. One of the main points about the law is that the penalties for breaking it should be known and consistent; pace people who think that sentencing depends on what sort of mood the judge is in and how convincing a sob-story he’s given, there are pretty well-defined aggravating and mitigating features laid down by the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Court of Appeal — and, for murder, by Parliament — that the judge has to stick to. Obviously it’s up to him assess which features apply in the particular set of circumstances with which he’s called to deal, and one judge might be more inclined to severity or mercy than another when someone’s at the borderline between one penalty and another, but certainly for more serious crimes it’s not going to make a great deal of difference which judge is doing the sentencing.
To throw that out of kilter when someone’s life is in the balance seems appallingly arbitrary, and it also seems quite dreadful to put someone in the position — as happened a few years ago, as I recall, when a young British woman was murdered while on holiday with her fiancé in Florida — to put the survivor in a position where he has to plead for the lives of his partner’s killers on the grounds she was profoundly opposed to capital punishment. And in the interests of strict justice, I think you’d have to say that if you have capital punishment for some categories of murder, you have it for all murderers who fall in those sentencing categories, turning a deaf ear to the pleas for mercy made by their victims’ families if they happen to be opposed to capital punishment.
Which, of course, just re-instates the problem for the victim’s family that Dominic Lawson identifies, only for a different category of families.
As an addendum, I see
Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki has said his government could review relations with any country which criticised the execution of ex-leader Saddam Hussein.
Does this mean that if enough British cabinet ministers make sufficient fuss, he’ll tell them to bring the troops home?
Technorati: Capital Punishment