therapy makes a mockery of justice
UK courts will soon give the family of murder victims their
say in court - that is bad news for all concerned.
The announcement that relatives of individuals who have been killed
or murdered will have the right to make a statement to the court
before the killer is sentenced shows the rise and rise of therapeutic
Britain's Lord Chancellor has unveiled a pilot scheme which will
give a voice to bereaved relatives in murder and manslaughter trials.
Starting today at the Old Bailey in London, and in Crown Courts
in Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Winchester, the scheme will
involve a 'victim's advocate' speaking to the court on behalf of
the victim's family. He or she will outline how the killing affected
the family, and how they are coping in its aftermath. The statement
will be made after the jury has reached its verdict but before the
court has passed sentence.
The problem is that therapeutic justice makes a mockery of real
justice. Victims of crime have every right to feel powerful emotions
about their loss. But their emotions must not be allowed to influence
the sentencing policies of the court. How people feel about a crime
must not be confused with how we judge a criminal act.
The incorporation of emotionalism into the justice system has been
one of the most destructive innovations of recent years in Anglo-American
legal culture. Under the banner of extending victims' rights, activists
are altering the very nature of justice. The aim of their campaigns
is to give victims of crime a privileged status, which has had the
effect of undermining defendants' rights. Victims' advocates insist
that their clients be given a direct role in court proceedings -
and allowing victims to address courts before sentencing is a big
concession to the advocates' campaigning.
However, the use of victim-impact statements is likely to undermine
the importance of objectively measuring criminal behaviour. Criminal
judgments will have a greater subjective component as the feelings
of victims may start to influence sentencing. How a crime impacts
on a family member depends on specific circumstances, on different
individuals' personalities and characters. Its impact is arbitrary
and subjective. After all, a murder is no less serious if family
members cope well with it.
It is clearly right that victims' families and friends should be
treated properly in the legal process, and that they should be informed
of all important developments. But enhancing the status of the victim
in criminal proceedings has serious implications for a fair trial.
It is likely to distract judge and jury alike from adopting an objective
view of the proceedings. Legal objectivity is an ideal that is rarely
realised even at the best of times. Introducing more emotionalism
into courtrooms can only promote arbitrary justice.
published on spiked, 24 April 2006