Thursday, 30 August 2012

A balanced justice!

Many people were definitely shocked with the sentencing of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik who killed 77 people in a bomb attack and gun rampage just over a year ago. For these atrocities, he was handed 21 years imprisonment and must serve a minimum of 10 years. He would have been committed to a secure mental health unit if the court had accepted the prosecutor’s plea of insanity.

Following the massacre Breivik was charged with voluntary homicide and committing acts of terror over the attacks in Oslo and Utoya Island on July 22, 2011. His sentencing generated loads of comments from both sides. Those in favour of harsh sentencing condemned the verdict as a mere pampering of a criminal who deserves to be killed or serve a very long sentence with a hard labour while the liberals welcomed it as a giant step for humanity and a great leap for civilization.

But, however you see it, the question of modern criminal justice system has become a perennial one; it will never go away. The intensity of the debate surrounding this topic has been getting too hot lately, polarising the community into two opposing factions. On one side are those who feel strongly that the criminal justice system has become so soft due to the continuous ‘decline of the rehabilitative ideal’ which has resulted in hard criminals like sex offenders, drug addicts and violent offenders being let off the hook instead of being made to face the consequences of their actions.  

On the other side however are those who feel strongly that the criminal justice system must be dispensed not arbitrarily but with respect and in accordance with the principles of human rights, rule of law and protocols especially that set down by the European Convention on Human Rights in order not to appear deliberately retributive. The opponents of this type of soft approach to the justice system are not convinced. Their argument is that criminals committed crime and by so doing deprived others of their fundamental human rights and as a result the right thing would be to deprive them of their own rights too. They contend that things have got out of hand in the name of human rights and to show how far the situation has deteriorated they cited the introduction of private prisons and contracted prison warders both of which effectively commercialised the criminal justice system.

But it is also not amusing that the system on the other hand had become so severe to the extent that a country like America is not bothered that she holds two million of her citizens in confinement on any given day. It is because of this that I am using this platform to ignite a debate to see how we are a going to strike a reasonable balance to solve this perennial problem. Breivik sentencing may have been too lenient but then something more than that may end up being too cruel and work against the gain we have made so far in giving dignity to humanity.

Do we really need to punish an offender cruelly to teach others a lesson? I guess the answer should be no! How about his human rights and the fact that any form of inhuman punishment would mean a violation of his person and the whole humanity and would surely work against the spirit of Article 3 of the ECHR? It does not really matter what people say but the main thing that should preoccupy us is the fact that these offenders’ actions are tempting enough for us to unleash our primitive uncivilised behaviour. That will be a disaster if we succumb to the temptation for it would mean taking humanity hundreds of miles back to the Stone Age. The zeal to punish should not make us forget the need to treat humans with respect and dignity. The fact that we are poked in the eyes should not be a reason for us to overact. The balance has to be maintained at all time. The maxim in criminal has always been proportionality and we should keep it that way!

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