Political Promise

Challenge these dangerous calls for retribution

In Aaron Frazer on March 21, 2010 at 10:00 am

I’m not one for sweeping castigations of cultural norms. Invariably I find the incendiary populism of many common sense crusaders deeply annoying, especially when there arguments are delivered despite a paucity of factual evidence. Therefore I am dedicating this article to what I see as the most troubling constant in our society; the foghorn volume of the righteous lynch mob. This has recently been reinvigorated by the case of Jon Venables, who in the last few weeks has been the centre of a enraged campaign to reveal his recent crimes and undermine his anonymity. When considering the depths of public anger over this issue, and the vicious abuse meted out to someone who was thought to be Venables, it seems obvious that his anonymity is the only thing which protects his safety. However, saturated with stories of miscarries of justice and the leniency of sentencing, much of the British public have resented the words of “support”, “rehabilitation” and anonymity when associated with Venables. Much more preferable is the reassuring language of brutal retribution. When individuals argue that anonymity is unjustified, or laughably that it is too expensive, they are basically saying the rule of law is an ineffective dispenser of justice and that if someone attacks or kills Venables then that’s an acceptable response to the horrors of his crimes.

It has never become clearer then when a horrific crime strikes a chord with popular consciousness, the dispassionate and (relatively) equitable application of justice and law is frequently argued to be ineffective. It is a despicable and contemptuous argument which erodes the central, underlining principles of our society. This will be reinvigorated by a two prong process. First there needs to be a realisation that important, well known cases of sentencing have been widely considered to be overwhelming lenient. There needs to be a prolonged, detailed, and preferably dispassionate debate about the efficacy of our sentencing procedure. However at the other end there needs to be a clear and unequivocal denunciation from politicians and those of the criminal justice system at this vigilante justice. Apart for the Bulger family, whose right to know Jon Venables identity/what he did is still contentious, no-one has the “right” to know; especially since those calling for it most loudly have not been overwhelmingly convincing in showing that they would use such information responsibly. Instead of appeasing and “understanding” public anger, politicians should ignore the temptation to cave in to this populist bullying and stand firm. Public knowledge about Venables crimes is widely perceived to be detrimental to a fair trial. Anonymity in this case is to prevent vigilantism and the denigration of the rule of law. Fundamentally,sentencing and punishment is the role of courts, not the “court of public opinion”.

Aaron Frazer

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  1. I am glad that this topic was discussed on this blog, totally agree with all the above, but there are some problems in the legal regulation in the light of recent changes in legislation. I would not wish to write here in great detail, much is written on the site http://moslegist.ru … But thanks anyway!

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