An Eye For an Eye?

October 16, 2012 8:40 pm

The April Jones case shook Britain this October

A Facebook status I posted last week about the April Jones case was met with stern resistance from those in favour of capital punishment. My argument is that even if it can be proved beyond all reasonable doubt that a person has killed another person, it still isn’t right for the State to kill that person.

Of course, there is the fact that a number of convicted murderers, rapists, and other violent offenders who have been put to death have since been proven to have been innocent. That is also the case in terms of convicted violent offenders who’ve been given a life sentence and have had their convictions subsequently overturned.

But aside from that argument, I believe that murder is wrong – end of. My logic is simple: when one person murders another, it’s wrong, so how can it possibly be right for the State to murder that person? In any case, what would murdering a murderer really achieve? Short-term revenge for the victim’s family, yes. Ensuring that the murderer is not able to reoffend, yes. But little else.

Surely though, ensuring that a murderer is not able to reoffend can be achieved by imprisoning him or her for the duration of their life. By that, I don’t mean a life sentence according to its current definition, but literally, the duration of their life. I am a firm believer that life should mean life, and I would also be of the opinion that for lesser crimes, the criminal should serve the duration of their sentence, not a half-sentence or similar.

One friend of mine who shares my view on the matter made the point that there are plenty of judicial systems in the world that function on ‘cold, hard revenge’, and he is absolutely right. I cannot understand what right we would have to call our judicial system a judicial system at all if it were founded on reactionary and emotionally-charged decisions based on the immediate responses of victims’ families. Judicial systems must have enshrined in them fair, level-headed, calmly-made rulings. That is the only way to ensure justice; the State murdering a murderer would be little other than revenge.

People often shout ‘Hang him!’ when stories like this hit the headlines, and I can understand why. They want an eye for an eye. But to do so, without an impartial examination of evidence, would be wholly unjust, not only for the accused, but also for the victim. Traumatic as it may be, victims’ families deserve to have the facts examined fully before a decision is made, and for that decision to be based on the facts, not on anger or grief.

I’ve been told that my opinions would change if my child, or another family member, were murdered or abused. Who knows? Perhaps they would. But speaking calmly and frankly right now, I would hope that they wouldn’t. I say without emotion now that I wouldn’t want the memory of that person to be associated with the murder of another human being. I would want that person to be locked up for the rest of their life, having to live every day in the knowledge that they had taken a life and ruined so many more. In some ways, I see capital punishment as being a lesser punishment as, really, once it [the execution] is over, the criminal is no longer being punished. They simply cease to exist. They don’t have their liberties curtailed. They don’t have to wake up every day to live with what they did. They don’t have to experience almost everyone hating them.

This is an extremely emotive topic and I appreciate that people who have experience of loved ones being harmed might think that I’m being insensitive or disrespectful, but now, while calm and without such an experience is, so far as I can see, the best time to form a view on this issue.

I want to end this post with two quotes:

‘”To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, it is not justice.”

– Archbishop Desmond Tutu.


“We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing.”

– US Catholic Conference

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