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Retribution as a victim’s right

  • March 21st, 2007

A row between Britain’s Lord Chief Justice (judge) and Lord Chancellor (politician) highlights the Blair government’s approach to crime.

Britain now has 34 murderers on whole of life sentences. They will die in prison. Their Court of Appeal just increased a sentence from 30 years to 50. Lord Falconer responded to the top judge’s complaint that “the prisons will be full of geriatrics”, with the hope that others, like Ian Brady who had not got whole of life sentences, would also never be let out. Best of all, he gave a robust justification for retribution as a legitimate purpose of punishment.

In 6 years of Parliament I never heard another NZ politician risk a defence of retribution. And more sad still, all the victims I’ve met through Sensible Sentencing have felt obliged to offer the PC mantra that they are not looking for retribution. The authorised piety perverts the honest need to see punishment into “all I want is to ensure that this does not happen to anybody else”. 

Sympathetic questioning reveals the contortions required to believe and say that. You’ll find of course they want the criminal to pay the proper price. I know of no culture that did not base justice on reciprocity. Nearly all our victims feel the the offender should suffer something. Securing that helps them feel the world is not entirely unbalanced. In short our stifling official cant forces the victims of even our worst crimes to feel ashamed of their natural and laudable desire to retaliate.

Then the official processes incarcerate the victim in the role of loser. Their only permitted voice in court is through the victim impact statement. They can recite how badly they’ve been affected by the criminal, but they are gagged on sentencing. The criminal can bring along his family or whanau to urge the judge to let him off lightly. The victim may not even be allowed to read her statement, and it can not touch on the sentence.

And now the government is changing the Parole law. The Parole Board will be able to refuse to hear victims. The Board will have a discretion to listen, but only if the victim confines herself to suggestions on ensuring that the community will be safe when the criminal is let out. Even if the victim could comment on the justice of early release it would not do any good. The Parole Board is not to be allowed to take account of the justice of letting the criminal out early. They can’t even consider the original judges reasons for sentencing. This is the NZ Labour’s  version of “cracking down”.

Would that New Zealand had the Blair version of Labour.



Oh wait. Yes, I have. I’m sorry, but I just don’t have it in me right now to type it all out again. Besides, it was just ramblings anyway. You didn’t want to hear me go on and on about this, right?

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