Monday, September 25, 2006

Emotional Claptrap

Just come across this post at the Magistrate's Blog:

Harriet Harman, the Department forConstitutional Affairs minister, is launching a consultation paper today on plans to allow relatives of homicide victims to address the court, either in person or through a representative, post-conviction but before sentence.

Well, if she cares to consult me, I shall tell her that this is nauseating tabloid-driven claptrap.

On the case of it being nauseating claptrap, then I couldn't agree more. It irritates me intensely to see the interviews on TV with the families of murder victims, complaining that they haven't received justice for their son and such like. This isn't to say that I don't feel for the pain of their loss, or understand their feelings. Of course they're angry. Of course they want to track down the murderer and rip their guts out, or at the very least make sure they're deprived of their freedom for life. In some cases, they may even be right.

But we have a justice system so that we don't descend into the law of the jungle. It works by taking emotion out of the system, so that facts are assessed rationally, and the evidence scrutinised carefully. Then, the judge is called upon to use his own judgement as to how best to punish the offender - striking a balance between the need to punish the perpetrator, the safety of the community, and the hope of rehabilitation. This isn't to say we shouldn't be shocked by vicious crimes like murder or rape, but that we have to treat them rationally and not succumb to the baser instincts of human nature.

That, of course, is fine in theory. Yet some people are allowed to make emotional appeals in court - those accused of crimes, who then have their lawyers present detailed cases on their troubled history, and the emotional stresses that may have led them to commit such heinous acts. What I'd like to know is this - how is it fair for the perpetrators of the crime to make an emotional appeal to downgrade their sentence, when the other party who has a direct emotional involvement with the case cannot do the same in converse?

Unless there is credible evidence a person was suffering from serious mental disorder, then mitigating circumstances shouldn't come into it. We have to accept there are rights and responsibilities; and that the law is there to be observed at all times. The crime and the guilt of the defendant should be processed in as emotion-free a manner as is possible, given the nature of a judicial system. That means no emotional appeals to the sentencing authority, no matter which side they come from.