Is there a difference between “Justice” and “Revenge?” How should a criminal justice system behave when it comes to punishing offenders? Difficult questions to really answer, but they are ones which need to be addressed.
This thought process has been sparked off by a post on the OUStudent blog about a news item on the BBC today. Titled “Criminal Justice in the News” and it does hit a few issues that I like to get on my high horse over
In the BBC news today there is an article titled “Death driver sentence ‘too short’” which begins with:
A widow is calling for a tougher jail term for the lorry driver who was responsible for her husband’s death.
Grandfather Peter Ellison, 62, of Carlton Husthwaite, near Thirsk, was killed when a lorry ploughed into his tractor on the A168 last September.
David Jackson, 56, of Kirkbymoorside, was jailed for nine months at Teesside Crown Court on 22 June after admitting causing death by dangerous driving.
Mr Ellison’s widow, Dorothy, wants the Attorney General to review the case.
It goes on to confirm that the Unduly Lenient Sentence team is considering referring this case to the appeals court and outlines the basic details of the case. While this is indeed a tragic incident, and you cant help but to feel sorry for the widow left behind, it raises the issue of “Justice” or “Revenge.” This is something, which to me, constantly hovers over pretty much every court case – rarely do victims think “justice has been done” unless the offender gets disproportionately punished – and its after effects are often the basis for all manner of political grandstanding (I wont start on how bad the Church can grandstand – that is a rant for another day).
The BBC article finishes with some telling remarks:
Mrs Ellison, who would have celebrated her 34th wedding anniversary last weekend, said: “It just seems like we are the victims really because he gets nine months and comes out and gets on with his life.
“We have lost somebody special and nine months just doesn’t seem fair.
“I know he didn’t do it deliberately, but to kill somebody and just get nine months, it’s an insult really.”
To me, this is a call for revenge rather than justice. Mrs Ellison is the victim, in that it was her husband who died (Murder is an odd situation in that the victims tend to be dead… 🙂 ), so all I can assume the first comment above means is she wants some one else to suffer more than she has. That is not justice.
Her second comment above is a sign of the hurt she is feeling, but the BBC (and radio news today) have spun it into something else. It is not fair that her husband died in the accident, but no amount of punishment of the driver will change the state of affairs. Her husband will remain dead. Nine months in Jail (away from his own family) and a criminal record is not a “light punishment” – this is a myth often pushed about by the Righteous Right-wing media, mostly people who have no concept of the effects of even relatively short periods of detention.
Crucially, it raises the question of how long would Mrs Ellison consider fair? Ten months? Nine Years? 99Â Years?
Her last sentence shows she understands the reality of the situation, but is still hurting. Mr Jackson did not set out to kill (mens rea remember) and it is accepted by the court his actions were not deliberately reckless. This leaves a big question mark over what Mrs Ellison is asking for here.
Every day people drive dangerously and recklessly. Some of these people have accidents which destroy property, some have accidents which injure people and some have accidents which kill. Should the punishment be based on the (almost random) consequences of the act, or the nature of the act itself?
Equally (if not more) importantly, is the “punishment” of criminals there to make them suffer or rehabilitate them and deter others? Are people deterred from having accidents by punishing those who have very serious accidents? I doubt it.
What would sentencing Mr Jackson to a longer prison sentence achieve?
[tags]Society, Culture, Law, Rights, Murder, Crime, Punishment, Social Rights, Social Values, BBC, News, Dangerous Driving[/tags]