Thursday, November 02, 2006

Justice, Closure and Victims

I am confused about how our society based on its Judeo-Christian ethics has over recent times reverted to the Old Testament version where-in justice is measured as an "an eye for an eye".

The sub-editor's description ("Instead of being dispassionate, prosecutors should fight for victims") of Miranda Devine's column summarised her argument completely (SMH, 2 Nov). Devine seems to believe the purpose of the criminal justice system is retribution for victims. In the name of achieving that retribution any legal tactic should be employed.

This is based on the assumption that, of course, the prisoner in the dock is always guilty - because the prosecution wouldn't have been mounted otherwise. That therefore any legal tactic is okay, and that to have judghements overturned because of the tactics is unreasonable because the most important right is that of the victim.

I think the pathway to this insanity was the psycho-babble of "closure". Clearly, when victims or families of victims get caught up in the legal procedures some time after a crime, that "re-opens" the set of mental and emotional traumas undergone at the time of the crime. So the victim potentially has to relive the crime.

This has morphed into the idea that the victim cannot have "closure" until after the trial. But that closure is because the trial process itself prohibits closure, not that the trial process and "punishment of the criminal" (or vindication) is necessary for closure.

The purpose of a criminal justice system is to ensure that the penalties for crime, which primarily exist as appropriate punishments designed to deter crime, are applied to the guilty. To ensure the process is just the system has very strict rules of procedure. To breach those rules is to have a system that is not just.

If guilty criminals go free because prosecutors over-step these rules, then the blame rests with the prosecutors, not the system.

To imagine that the purpose of the criminal justice system is retribution, and that retribution will be what makes the victim or victim's families feel better is simply a delusion. The teaching of the New Testament was that the victim needs to forgive those who have done them wrong. It has been a far more sturdy moral compass than the new age ethics of hate and revenge.

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