The Jury Talks Back


Peter Hitchens on The Death Penalty

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fritz @ 8:31 pm

Peter Hitchens, like his brother, is one of the standards I look towards when it comes to clarity of thought in writing. These two selections from his Sunday Mail column are classic:

And I add that a large part of the purpose of justice is to offer example and demonstration of the power of justice and the strength of its arm in retribution. See my point about deterrence above. We do not execute murderers to satisfy vengeance, to placate their victims’ families, or for any other individual purpose (except perhaps the greater chance of repentance by the murderer, and the humane sparing of the murderer from the prolonged and appalling torture of lengthy incarceration) . We do it to demonstrate our special abhorrence of the crime of murder, and to frighten others into not committing murder…

A few paragraphs later:

In any case, justice is not a private transaction between victim and assailant. It is the law that decides if the killer should be executed, not the victim (who, I must keep stressing,  is dead) or the victim’s family.  They might forgive their relative’s killer, which would be nice of them, but the law would still be entitled to execute him whatever they thought, and quite right too, acting on behalf of the victim (opinions unavailable) and of justice, which in civilised countries specifies a special penalty for the deliberate taking of life, not out of revenge,  as the abolitionists falsely claim, but out of the need for law.

1 Comment

  1. All fine and dandy, but our modern law of crime grew exactly from what Hitchens says it was not: in the early Middle Ages and before, punishment was a private transaction between the victim’s family and the (family of) the murderer, and death was exacted by the victim’s family explicitly for revenge. Government was involved only to the extent that it certified that the circumstances were or were not murder, and that the victim’s family could act accordingly; and to set the ransom (wergild in Anglo Saxon law) which the murderer could give in satisfaction. It was only in the high Middle Ages that the king got around to saying, “hey, you’ve broken my peace by committing violence and I’m going to punish you for that!” and even then private prosecution was not disallowed: it merely fell into disuse, but it wasn’t abolished until the early 19th century.

    Comment by kishnevi — 11/24/2008 @ 8:25 pm

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