In the debate at Nottingham University over the proposition that Life should mean Life there was one regrettable absentee – the victims’ representative. Moya Griffiths was bamboozled by time and traffic and I’m not sure if the debate wasn’t the better for it.
This may sound harsh, but I believe that we advance public policy more through the exchange of ideas than we do through the visceral exposition of high emotion. In the interests of fairness, though, here is Moya’s interview with the university Impact magazine. My commentary follows….
IMPACT MAGAZINE Thursday 28th February 2013
Moya Griffiths – Proposition and mother of a murder victim
Could you explain your argument briefly?
I represent a lot of people who have lost a loved one. We believe that if you are prepared to take a life then you can fully anticipate losing your liberty. Our campaign is ‘life for a life’. The victims do not get a fair crack of the whip as far as justice is concerned. It’s been proven over and over and over again. Now quite often a life sentence is dictated by ten years depending on the severity, but talking from my own personal experience, ten years is average. That is not a life sentence. We feel that when people are imprisoned even when they do come out after ten years, quite often they will re-offend. The statistics are there to back this up.
Do you think offenders can be too young to know what they’re are doing?
No. A child of seven will know the difference between right and wrong. I’m not saying that there can’t be extenuating circumstances; every case has to be judged on its own merits. For a normal 13 or 14 year old to kill or murder, I’m sorry no. You can quote cases, such as James Bulger; the two convicted killers knew exactly what they were doing, young as they were.
Is there room for redemption?
The proof is there, I’m not taking anything away from what Ben has achieved but the difference is years ago the sentencing was a lot harder, more penalised than what it is today. If it were to happen again, he wouldn’t necessarily go through that process, as he wouldn’t be behind bars for that period of time.
Should ‘life for a life’ extend to the death penalty?
We will never ever have capital punishment back in this country. If you ask any mother or father who have lost a child, initially the reaction would be, ‘Yes’ to capital punishment. But it’s not realistic. I, and others like me, believe in life for a life in prison.
Do you think the same sentence should apply to those who commit crimes of compassion and those who murder with malicious intent?
If it is a crime of compassion then I think it should be viewed quite differently. It’s not someone going out who thinks life is worthless or cheap. Life is cheap to a lot of people - it’s meaningless to them. Those are the people who need to be put imprison and made to stay there.
“Our campaign is ‘life for a life’”… Is an excellent slogan, and one I appreciate is deeply attractive due to its simplicity. But therein lays its weakness - depriving someone else of their life, or a meaningful existence, does nothing to repair the harm originally done. What it does do is repeat that harm onto the criminal's family. The very pain victims’ decry is then the one they advocate spreading.
”The victims do not get a fair crack of the whip as far as justice is concerned. It’s been proven over and over and over again.” I am never quite sure what such assertions actuially mean. Does the criminal justice system pay enough attention to victims? Possibly not, although the situation in the legal process has changed significantly in recent years and not always to the betterment of Justice. Of course, it is a fundamental tenet of our system that it is the State that takes centre stage as being the one offended against, the victim being only the vehicle of the offence. To do otherwise would be to substitute personal and arbitrary vengeance for Justice.
“Now quite often a life sentence is dictated by ten years depending on the severity, but talking from my own personal experience, ten years is average. That is not a life sentence.” Ten years is not only not a life sentence, it’s not even related to reality. Of released Lifers, the average served is 16 years. Of those still inside….well, my own journey through the system may give an indication. The starting point for sentencing in murder cases is 16 years and then varied according to mitigating or exaccerbating circumstances. What Moya believes is just plain wrong.
“We feel that when people are imprisoned even when they do come out after ten years, quite often they will re-offend. The statistics are there to back this up.” Leaving aside the “ten years” error, this is again entirely wrong. Second homicides are committed at a rate of 1 or 2 %, a figure that’s been constant for decades. Serious reoffending comes to maybe 5%. By any measure too much, but equally by no measure is this “quite often”.
“Is there room for redemption?” “The proof is there, I’m not taking anything away from what Ben has achieved but the difference is years ago the sentencing was a lot harder, more penalised than what it is today. If it were to happen again, he wouldn’t necessarily go through that process, as he wouldn’t be behind bars for that period of time.”
Utterly and completely wrong. The tariff for murder has been leaping ever higher over the past decade or so. What may once have been an unimaginable and rare tariff – say 30 years – is now frequent. For clarifications sake, under the present schema I would still have received a tariff around 10 years: starting at 16 years, then reduced due to my age. And the implication that I was somehow redeemed due to my sentence is quite, quite wrong.
I do honestly appreciate the raw anger, the bitterness and even hatred that can flow from being a victim of crime. For those private individuals I have all due sympathy and compassion. But I will never allow that to slide into supporting this raw vengeance from being turned into public policy, and one that merely increases the level of suffering in society.