Justice with mercy

2007-12-13 00:00

The dispensing of justice through the courts is a matter of considerable complexity where evidence must be weighed, motive fathomed, the intricacies of the law considered and degrees of culpability distinguished. A reflection of this complexity is to be found in the frank words of High Court Judge Chris Nicholson this week in respect of a murder case before him. The case had caused him “great anguish” and “the most anxious deliberation”.

Here was a case where a woman confessed to shooting her husband in 1997 in desperation because of his alleged abusiveness and his refusal to agree to a divorce 0or separation. The conclusion at the time was that his death was the result of suicide. The woman was unable to sustain the subterfuge any longer and, after what she described as 10 years of hell, handed herself over to the police.

The judge has sought to strike the right balance in his judgment between retribution and rehabilitation. The interests of society required some punishment for the taking of a life and yet this was an instance where the court should clearly blend justice with mercy. The judge used this approach to justify a sentence of five years in prison with half of it commuted to correctional supervision at the discretion of the Commissioner of Correctional Services.

In another case, also reported on yesterday, two school principals were sentenced to two life terms each for the murder, without any extenuating circumstances, of two teacher colleagues. Here were people who flagrantly abused their position of power, whereas in the other case the accused was the one subjected to abuse. Judges have to be aware of such differences and a host of nuances in any particular trial. Their sageness and discretion, exercised within the ambit of the law, are important pillars of any worthwhile society.

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