[First published Jan 4th]
Though it pains me to think that I need to do this, here is a disclaimer:
Disclaimer: Norris and Dobson are guilty, and deserve all they get for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
There are, however, a few things which trouble me about this case. The verdict is not amongst them.
When Bin Laden was murdered ex judice, I wrote a post arguing that despite such lovelies as Tony Blair saying justice had been done, this was far from the case.
http://www.petelangman.com/what-is-truth-asked-pilate/ Justice, I suggested, was a process directed by, and adjusted by, society in order that each citizen may be treated fairly and equally. Naturally, it’s imperfect, but the intention is good. Bin Laden’s murder was closer to judicial revenge – he had been tried in some senses, and found guilty, but without an opportunity to defend himself.
There are echoes of this case in the headlines surrounding the eventual (and welcome) guilty verdicts for Norris and Dobson in their trial for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Justice has been done … and will, in this case, continue to be done. But it has been done for society, not for the victim or his family, other than in the sense that they are part of this society for which justice acts.
Justice is always depicted as blind, suggesting that she merely weighs the evidence without taking the individuals into account. As Stephen’s murder was plainly racially motivated (aggravated sounds all wrong), this leads us into marshy ground.
Ought, as some suggest, the racial element to the crime be taken into account when sentencing? Ought, as doubtless someone will point out, the two murderers be sentenced as adults, not as the minors they were at the time of the offence, on the grounds that they gave up this right through their original (and continued) perjury?
Difficult questions, not least as the former may lead some to conclude that the justice system considers minorities (statistically at least, the group most likely to fall victim to racially-motivated attacks) as more valuable than non-minorities, as the sentencing will be generally higher when they are murdered. Surely murder is murder?
Yes, if justice is there to serve the victim, and the victim’s family … but it is not, it is there to serve society.
As justice serves society, anything which it finds abhorrent needs must lead to punishment of some sort or other. So the crime is split into two sections – cause and effect.
The murder must attract a certain tariff or punishment, and the actions beforehand must do the same – and must do so when no effect is forthcoming.
But this really puts the cat among the pigeons. Is killing someone because of the colour of their skin worse, say, than doing so because of the colour of their shirt … ?
Just wondering, and glad I’m not a lawlord!
Firstly, there have been a plethora of tweets and headlines and so on stating that justice has been done for Stephen, his parents etc. It is true that justice was, through a combination of many things, not served by the original enquiry. Its hands were tied. But justice is not for the victim of a crime, or for the parents and friends of the victim. Justice is for society. For all of us. It necessarily eschews personal vendettas, dislikes and jealousies in favour of even-handedness. It is a process. When circumstances lead to a palpable failure or miscarriage of justice, then the process is adjusted to take this into account. In this way, over time, our system makes fewer errors. Justice, or fairness as Plato describes it, is more often served than not.
The guilty verdicts passed on Norris and Dobson are the beginnings of justice being done in this case, not for any one person, but for all of us. Of this we have cause to be glad.
Secondly, there have been a number of tweets suggesting that the (undeniable) racially-motivated nature of this crime ought to be taken into account when sentencing. This, too, is problematic.
If a racially-motivated murder is seen to lead to a greater sentence falling upon the murderer, then the murder alone is not the act for which sentence is being passed … or, at the very least, there are two parts to the problem: the first is the intent, the second the act. This is awkward. Racially-aggravated murder is termed a hate-crime: this almost implies that other murders are not. This is plainly daft.
The only logical step is to divide the crime into two parts: intent and outcome.
When considering sentence, the intent behind the crime is simpler to deal with. Killing someone because they are of a different race to you is … did I say simpler? Is killing someone because they are a different colour really any different from killing someone because they support a different football team … or worship another god? Can we really separate and grade intention in this way? Does the urge to give some sort of justification to those who would