Life

The taking of a human life can serve many purposes. Revenge is the most understandable. A victim’s nearest and dearest would probably want to see the life of their loved one’s killer ended. A life for a life. The state might endorse that sentiment, but dress it up in judicial terms to justify taking the life of a human being.

 

The sanctity of human life is defended by pro-life and anti-euthanasia campaigners. Would they be so keen to preserve the lives of child rapists and murderers, torturers and the perpetrators of crimes against humanity including genocide?

electric chair

 

There is an argument that whole life imprisonment is a greater punishment than the swift end to the murderer’s life. It certainly avoids the risk of executing the wrong person. Frequent appeals for death row prisoners can extend their imprisonment to decades.

In Arkansas they have seven such death row prisoners sentenced to die by lethal injection. One of the three injections necessary to kill the condemned is nearing its use by date and the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug refuses to provide further supplies on moral grounds. There have been reports of executions going badly wrong and prolonged tortuous suffering the result of the drugs not working as they should.

Execution should not hang over the condemned prisoner for decades and the killing should be swift and humanely carried out. That’s if you approve of capital punishment.

If it is your opinion that taking a life is wrong and is not a fitting punishment for murder, then you might argue that humanity is best served by life imprisonment. Murderers facing a death sentence have nothing to lose by taking more lives. A death sentence is not a deterrent for murder.

Humane justice comes at a price. Rapists and murderers have served their sentences, been released and carried out further rapes and murders. Execution would have prevented that possibility. There have also been prisoners sentenced for rapes and murders they did not commit. Their decades of detention at least made their exoneration possible and their release a possibility.

Some would judge society by the way we treat the worst offenders. Justice should not be an instrument of retribution, but the measured judgement of what is the right and appropriate punishment for wrongdoing.

We might find it easier to condemn war criminals and child murderers to death, But we have to weigh up the possibility of executing those wrongly accused with the permanent removal from society of its worst elements.

It is no surprise that the Turkish president with his newly extended powers is now calling for the reintroduction of capital punishment in Turkey. With the judiciary in his pocket and many of his political opponents in prison, the power to use state killing would not be in safe hands.

Justice – seen to be done or media spectacle?

The current trial of Oscar Pistorius has drawn some praise and criticism for the televising of proceedings. Strangely, the accused is never shown, so we are not allowed to see his reactions to the prosecution questioning.

A world-renowned athlete who shot and killed his girlfriend was always going to be a media frenzy. To have daily access to the proceedings does provide the public with a fuller picture of what happened according to the evidence presented.That’s not to say that it guarantees a fairer outcome. Witnesses may find it daunting to have their words broadcast live to the world in an instant, but the cameras do not appear to be obtrusive.

courtroom cameras

Filming in the Pistorius trial has focused on the  defence and prosecution lawyers and has not used any special zooming or effects to dramatise the action. The accused has been given numerous breaks to compose himself during questioning and we are not privy to those moments. The discussions in the judge’s chambers are held in secret. In other words, all has been done to ensure that the filming of the trial observes strict regulation and preserves the decorum of a crucial legal process.

 

From what I have seen and heard, the public’s right to see justice done is being conducted in a professional and laudable manner. Public confidence in the legal system can only be enhanced by viewing how evidence is presented, and witnesses cross-examined.

When the verdict is given, we who shared in the proceedings may have an informed opinion on how that judgement was reached. There is no jury for the South African trial, so it is even more important that people have confidence in the judgement handed down by one person. Openness can boost that confidence.