Sir, You report (“Change may tip balance in favour of those who abide by law”, Aug 28) that the Prime Minister and Home Secretary want to rebalance the criminal justice system to give victims a greater voice.
One of the fundamental tenets of modern jurisprudence is that a crime is an offence against society. This justifies the State, and not the victims or their families, in taking the role of prosecutor and jailer. Another principle is that culpability is measured by the degree of the accused’s intention to bring about harmful consequences, not on the suffering of those affected.
In the sentencing process, account is always taken of aggravating or mitigating factors, including the level of violence used and the relative vulnerability of the victim. The penal options available to the judge are designed to do three things: punish, rehabilitate and deter. If the penalty is to be decided according to how sympathetic the judge is to a victim’s testimonial, what is its purpose? Public catharsis? Do Blair and Reid really think that turning the courts into platforms for victims’ grievances will hasten the healing process?
There was a time when vengeance was a victim’s right and public catharsis very popular. Wronged individuals and even whole communities participated in the trial and sentencing process. They then got the opportunity to carry out or watch the punishment. It was called the Dark Ages.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
As we near the end of the lull in frenetic 'initiatives' from the Government caused by the summer holiday season, we sit nervously awaiting the latest basket of wheezes cooked up on a Caribbean beach. There will be much talk of victims and of rebalancing, and this letter in today's Times gives a welcome perspective:-