Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Opinion: How we sentimentally undermine our justice system

Until broke
The criminal justice system in developed democracies exists to suggest that everyone is equal before the law. It is an ideal we aspire to, but the reality is, whilst everyone can have their day in court, not everyone has competent or exemplary legal representation.
There is an often paraphrased saying attributed to Prof. Alan Dershowitz, "Everyone is innocent until proven broke."
I think he said this about one of this high-profile trials of a Kennedy scion, O. J. Simpson or Michael Jackson, either way, the respondents got off, or got off lightly.
By intimidation
In Nigeria, the reality is, justice is procured by intimidation. There is no limit on the number of senior lawyers that can represent you in court. The Nigerian equivalent of the UK's Queen's Counsel (QC) is the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
A typical high-profile case can have over 5 SANs representing the respondent and thereby in advertently intimidating the opposing counsel and the bench whilst getting the most atrocious verdicts in the process. It is a travesty in need of urgent review.
Yet a case well-argued can have a defendant literally getting away with murder. A situation that can exercise the public and lead to the mass expression of displeasure at what is put forth as justice. The system has built-in mechanisms to correct this, if the will remains to pursue such.
Avoiding sentiment
However, justice in the criminal justice system has to derive from law and statute, not from sentiment. If society cannot abide or tolerate a judgement for its harshness or its leniency, it is incumbent on the state to review, reassess and probably appeal. That is how the system works.
Once judgement is passed and the sentence served, that due to society has been paid even if the crime that elicited judgement is atrocious, despicable or heinous. Justice cannot be the domain of public opinion or sentiment in civilised societies or we cede order and peace to the mob.
I am concerned for the situation where some members of the public have initiated petitions to additionally thwart the return to productive engagement in society because they are unhappy with the crime and the supposed criminal who has served their sentence.
Undermining the role of justice
For someone not to be able to return to their profession, though influential but not directly engaged with vulnerable members of society because some people have gathered to oppose it is unfair.
It defeats the whole purpose of punishment for crimes as part of a criminal justice system that sanctions as a deterrent and the purpose of prison as a place of correction and rehabilitation for return to society.
We must be careful not to become members of a sanctimonious and sententious mob of petitioners whose busybody distractions militate against order to exercise sentiment oversight of a fully-functional criminal justice system that has fulfilled the needs of the law.

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