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Law and Order continued....


There is no doubt that many people keep within the law because of the fear of punishment if they step out of line. There is a relevant statement to this effect made by Moses in the Old Testament - 'Israel shall hear and fear, and shall do no more wickedness'(6). The New Testament continues the thought of deterrence even in the matter of Church discipline. The young Christian minister Timothy was instructed to 'rebuke those that sin so that others may also fear(7).

A judge of course has guidelines when administering punishment. He cannot make it unduly heavy just for the fact of deterrence, but usually has an option when dealing with a particular crime. It can say merit five or ten years imprisonment and according to its severity the judge will choose.

In recent years the British judiciary has had to deal with cases (Myra Hindley, of the infamous moors murders for instance) where criminals were sentenced to a specific number of years imprisonment, but because of the enormity of the offence and the pressure of public opinion, have had their sentences lengthened. However heinous the crimes were one would feel that this alteration is unjust.

Then there is the question of capital punishment. Since 1961 Britain ceased hanging for murder, although there is strong evidence that a referendum from the country would indicate that capital punishment should be brought back for particular categories of murder. It is must admitted however that if capital punishment is advocated as a deterrent to would-be criminals, the number of homicides was not less under the former regime when the death penalty was operating. This does not mean that deterrence is irrelevant, because it is not the sole defining factor. The real issue is that punishment should be adequate and just.

Index to the topic

Law and Order
A Postscript on Capital Punishment

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