Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Justice?

Justice is a word and a concept that means very different things to different people. One man's justice can be another man's outrage, and it is far from unusual to hear people  use justice as a synonym for revenge, while others think of it in connection with the concept of mercy.

These not-specially-original thoughts were triggered by the comments of Mrs. Denise Fergus, bereaved mother of the murdered Jamie Bulger, who met his awful end twenty years ago. She is on a  mission to hound the two men who tormented and killed her son, and is even (but hopelessly) eager to have Thompson (who has not reoffended since his release) re-incarcerated; Venables has of course been recalled to prison following a conviction for having child pornography on his computer and Mrs. Fergus plans to make representations to the Parole Board when his case comes up for review.

This is all horribly reminiscent of another poor mother who lost a child,  whom the tabloids never left alone until she died. Mrs. Fergus has suffered more than most of us can imagine. To stoke her rage and keep it simmering for twenty years is simply cruel.

22 comments:

  1. Speaking generally are those who never deal with an issue in their lives. The most common aspect is the world's only divorcee - and it's always someone else's fault.

    Going back 25 years I met a divorcee who was bitter against her ex. He came to see her on Sundays and wound her up by showing his life was so much better without her, which she took out on me after he had left.

    Really she was just (metaphorically) stabbing herself but she couldn't see he was actually taking revenge on her, with her doing all the work.

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  2. It is a sad aspect of the human condition that even intelligent people are so overcome with emotional feeling that their need to avenge the way in which they perceive themselves to have been wronged, demand vengeance to be provided by the Justice System.

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  3. Forgiveness is a dish best served at once, while eating it may be hard, the after taste brings so much joy and freedom.

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    1. I agree. Forgiveness is beneficial to the forgiver as well as the forgiven. And its an option open to Christians and non-Christians alike.

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    2. I agree. Forgiveness can benefit both the forgiver and the forgiven. And is not an action that may only be offered by Christians.

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  4. I have always thought it a big mistake to allow the notion to spread that the CJS is designed or intended to provide any sort of redress for victims. That is not what the CJS is meant to do. The CICB is one thing, but victim statements and public airing of opinions on the steps of the court after the verdict/sentence have always struck me as wholly inappropriate.

    I appreciate that this is now a deeply unfashionable view, and may appear unsympathetic to victims, but there is a danger of the CJS being skewed or even corrupted if 'justice' for the victims of crime is seen to be the primary objective, or even a component part of its intention and function.

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    1. I find the fact that you find victim statements inappropriatequite unbelievable.Inour action as magistrates, justice is not solely for up hold the (dry) letter of the law, but is also to provide justice to the victim.

      Without this, the seriousness of the facts can be readily be glossed over when delivering verdicts via the stanardised sentencing guidelines.

      Whilst the DoJ has purportedly strived to get a good mix of background and ages in Magistrates, the fact is that most are well educated white retired middle class people that have rarely ever been victims in these situations or friends with people who commit crimes like shoplifting , burgularly or assault. ( l'm a slight aberration
      from this as I'm under 40 and work full-time! However I'm still middle class and white though!)

      A Magistrates tendency, certainly on my bench, to overly lenient liberal attitudes mean that a victims statements is the best way of showing the damage that these crimes have done to the victim.

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  5. To feel a need for revenge after such a loss is, perhaps, natural, but to have that feeling reinforced, year after year, by the efforts of the press, is, in my view, wholly unreasonable.

    I wonder what she would do if the law required her to either beat these two young men to death as an additional sentence, or accept that they had already been punished by incarceration and the burden of their own guilt. Would she really want to carry the burden of having sought revenge in the way mentioned in Exodus on her conscience, along with the grief for her son?

    Faced with such a choice I would hazard a guess that she might be more likely to accept that they had been punished enough, particularly as both of these men were children themselves at the time of their awful crime.

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  6. These were deeply damaged children. Should they really have been tried as adults? Was their treatment since helpful?

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  7. Please let us not repopen the "how should they have been tried?" debate. This type of crime is so very, very rare, that I do not believe the State can organise its affairs in such a way as to ensure it can predict every set of variables and determine the optimum resolution. The "system" can only do its best, and at times that may not be ideal. Trials for very young, or intellectually challenged, or culturally diverse individuals will always be difficult when serious charges and serious consequences are in play.

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    1. Cardinal Number18 February 2013 16:13

      If anything needs to be repopened, it is the Catholic Church.

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  8. I fear I am not at all sure you are correct VP959.

    More factually, would I be correct in hazarding that Mrs Fergus has no legal right to influence the Parole Board's decision with any evidence or appearance?

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    1. I think that is true. It is also true to say that the victim impact statement is legally meaningless since sentencers are precluded from using it to affect their sentence.

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  9. I do think there is an important debate to be had about the way children are treated in the CJS as a whole. I used to cover police station interviews as a paralegal. It is ludicrous that 10 year olds are interviewed in exactly the same way as adults, apart from the right to have an appropriate adult present. It cannot be right to advise 10 year olds to no reply interviews, even if that is the appropriate advice in many cases when the evidence is thin. Whenever I gave such advice I was concerned about the effect on a young child of being advised not to face up to what they have done. And, in my experience, the youth courts were virtually identical to the adult ones, just without the public gallery.

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  10. The ten years old I've met do not often have *to be advised* not to face up to mischief they've done; they are more frequently in need of the advice not to try on ridiculous stories,thereby adding brazeness, untruthfulness and ill judgement to their other sins. Which is after all a fairly moral educational lesson, isn't it? "O my dread lord, I should be guiltier than my guiltiness..." and all that.
    But in fact, I agree that a ten ys old must have done evil things indeed to deserve facing up to them in a police station, instead of a court martial of irate parents. We err perhaps on the other side: no criminal liability until you're 14, then a very special juvenile offenders court until 18. It can feel very unfair that two schoolmates concurring in the same offense may have a completely different treatment just because their respective 18nth birthdays, possibly a month apart or less, fall one before and the other after the fact.

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  11. Apropos this last, there is a tendency in the US to criminalize behaviour in schools. When I was at school, it was generally understood that children sometimes wouldn't behave in the ideal manner, and boys getting into a fist fight on the playground, for example, would be punished within the school.

    In contemporary US schools, there is a trend for every school to have its own police officer, and for children involved in altercations to be arrested and dealt with by the criminal justice system. I am not sure that this is helpful. In fact, there was a report in my local paper of the arrest of a young man who is a pupil at a private school specializing in behavioural problems. He had been arrested and was due in court to answer charges of assaulting a teacher. This was the second time this year that he had faced these charges. It just struck me as terribly sad that a school whose entire raison d'etre is to deal with bad behaviour has chosen to resort to criminal charges when faced with more or less exactly the problem behaviour.

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  12. There's also the question as to whether a ten year old, even a mature one, fully understands the consequences of their action. When I was 11, I was (like a few small boys, I suspect) fascinated by making things go "bang". Being also interested in science and chemistry, I actively sought ways to make bigger and better "bangs", just for fun. Together with a friend I made several different explosive devices, culminating in a pipe bomb filled with weed killer and sugar and initiated with a length of Jetex fuse (those old enough will perhaps recall the small Jetex model aircraft motors). This final device was detonated at school, in some bushes at the edge of the playing field. Thankfully no real harm was done (other than a bit of damage) and the two of us were dealt with by the headmaster.

    Every time I've looked back on this incident since I've shuddered at the thought of how close we came to having killed or seriously injured several people. We were insane (or evil, if you're so inclined) to have done this, yet neither of us thought that what we were doing was anything other than a prank. Our failing was that of many children and young people, we simply did not consider the consequences of our action, in fact the wider possible consequences never once entered our heads at the time.

    I'm not suggesting for one moment that this applies to Venables and Thompson, but should we rush to assume that children of their age (at the time they murdered Jamie Bulger) always fully understand the heinousness of the crime they are committing, and its consequences?

    This is partially separate from the criminal responsibility argument. When we made and detonated that pipe bomb we knew it was wrong, we even hid in some bushes to avoid detection, and tried to deny responsibility when we were caught. What we didn't consider was the extent and depth of our wrongdoing and the consequences it may have had. We can be thankful that it was the early 60's, before the rise of terrorism, for it not being dealt with more severely. Such short sightedness seems to be a common feature of youth, and surely needs to be accounted for when considering punishment (and in this case I hope it was).

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    1. Cripes, what a schoolboy you must been! What did you headmaster do, lock you up in the physics lab, on bread and water, till you came up with the formula for cold fusion?
      Adults are expected to know that there is no undoing a thing once done. Yet,if poets are to be believed, that's a discovery that far too many people only really make well into their adulthood, in the wake of some grievous blunder. How wonderful can it be that children, and teenagers too, are largely unconscious of it, and apt to make decisions as if everything they did was reversible at will. Shouldn't this mean that their purpose, and their very -sanity of mind-, are in fact something quite different to what the law requires?

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    2. As I recall we were threatened with expulsion, but accepted getting caned as an alternative punishment. The odd thing at the time was the contrast between being punished again by our parents and being looked upon as heroic figures by our peers.............

      I like the point about young people not realising that some things cannot be undone. The challenge for our legal system (and for the families of victims) is understanding this inherent fallibility and finding a way to deal with it in a just manner.

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  13. Appropos vulnerable witnesses/ defendants, I recommend listening to this week's Moral Maze Radio 4 on i player. I doubt if many of the participants (other than the lawyers) had actually sat in a court dealing with rape or other sexual offences. Even those who should have known gave little or no credit to the services and experts on hand to assist such people, or the substantial changes made in court process. And no mention at all of specially ticketed judges..

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  14. I agree. Unfortunately I suspect a majority would not. However hard the education system might try to teach a civilised definition of justice, for popular culture (which is far more influential, and which permeates every medium) only vengeance will serve. For every "Dead Men Walking" there are a thousand "Brave Ones".

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  15. ".... the tabloids never left alone ............ To stoke her rage and keep it simmering for twenty years is simply cruel."

    It should be pointed out that one of the principal members of the Jamie Bulger memorial trust is himself also a member of the press - while I would never accusing him of "stoking her rage" it certainly needs to be considered how much Denise's being active in the trust is stoking her own rage.

    Then again, what else do we expect the poor woman to do?

    At least the memorial trust gives some extra purpose to James' short and tragic life.

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