Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The dangers of giving victims a role in sentencing

Those who support giving the victims of crime influence over sentencing think the practice will bring airy-fairy judges into contact with the real world and result in harsher penalties. But it does not always work like that.

Today a youth of 16 was convicted of raping a five-year-old boy. The offence took place eight days after he had been given a three-year community order for an earlier rape of a seven-year-old.

The Guardian says:

When sentencing the teenager for the first rape, the other judge is believed to have taken into consideration the views of the victim's family, who forgave him because of their Christian beliefs.

But the three-year community order prompted an appeal by the Crown Prosecution Service and the police.

This scandal reveals the reasons why it is wrong to involve victims in sentencing.

It is wrong because it brings a random element into the process. The sentence given for the same offence will vary depending upon who the victim happens to be. That must be incompatible with justice.

More fundamentally, it is wrong because it is not the victim's place to decide on the sentence. That sentence is not a piece of vengeance that can be set aside if the victim happens to be particularly forgiving (or foolish or gullible). The sentence is passed on behalf of the whole community.

In today's case the parents of the first little boy had no right to speak for the rest of us.


Crantock said...

Indeed,perhaps the parents of the second boy would like to speak to the parents of the first boy. They may not be so forgiving.

The other problem with "victim" involvement is that it increases the importance of "outcome" in deciding the sentance. I believe that someone whois arrested for drink driving after they harmlessly plough into a lamp post should expect to get the same punishment as the person who ploughs into a crowded bus stop. The crime is the same,the outcome is different.

Mark Thompson said...

Lady Justice is blindfolded to symbolise the principle that justice is blind and all are equal before the law. We tamper with that precept at our peril.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I agree with you, victims should not be involved in sentencing; I think you are being very unfair on the first family, with a world full of fundamentalists baying for blood, these parents have shown Christian forgiveness, that can’t have been easy, they are to be commended for their humanity. said...

It would be intersting if the family of the first child would like to step forward into the public eye to forgive this boy again

to compare the drink driving cases is irrelevant the first one would result in a charge of dd + criminal damage The second death by dangerous driving,

charges are based entirely on the outcome why should sentances be any different?