Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bloody Victims

Victims of crime can be a right pain. Not a popular view amongst the masses, I appreciate, but then you need a dose of reality thrown in your face on occasion. Having it done by a murderer only adds a frisson of outrage to some harsh truths.

Victims of crime should, rightly, call upon our sympathy and expect society to rally around and make efforts to repair the harm done to them and their lives. In a system focused upon restorative principles, this could be done so much better and it is to society’s loss that the insane urge to punish over-rides all else. But that's your choice; you live with the consequences of it.

But victims of crime should not be allowed to dictate criminal justice policy any more than Mother Theresa was able to lecture the Pope on theology. Due to the toxic combination of hate-filled victims groups and a slavering popular media, we are sliding into just that situation. Victims are having far too much influence on policy.

We must examine the motives of these vociferous groups (other victims groups are less perverse in their effects). Mothers against Murder, Victims Voice, anything connected to Norman Brennan... They are not concerned with Justice as an abstract ideal, an improvement in the overall good that exists in society. That would be positive and to be contended. Rather, they are fuelled by personal pain, stoking the fires of their own hate and vengeance.

That they should feel such anger is only natural. To be victimised and not feel fury at those responsible would be slightly odd. As a personal hell, they are entitled to stew in it.

However, they ask society to translate their personal hate into public policy. They ask that we warp the criminal justice system into a mechanism that makes them happier. This only increases the sum of social misery that comes from crime and is far from being Justice.

Some victims have become a political constituency, one of thousands which attempts to influence policy. This is just the operation of normal pluralist politics; it’s fine by me. But they attempt to claim a special status, wrap themselves in a shroud of pain and claim some great insight into criminal justice that -somehow - flows from their victimhood.

This is plain silly. Being bashed about doesn't add to your knowledge of crime and justice, any more than being blinded by the sun qualifies you for a degree in astronomy. It may increase the certainty of your views but it doesn't make those views any more


We should not pander to this constituency. We should support them, attempt to heal them, give due regard for the experiences they have suffered. But if we allow them to claim a special political status then society as whole will suffer for acceding to their narrow interests.

Justice belongs to all of us. If we hand it over to victims to shape then as their happiness and hate increases, the Justice that the rest of society looks to will be withered and distorted. We all lose.


  1. I'd have to agree.

    Justice comes in punishing the crime. Involving the victim makes it revenge, not justice.

    'Restorative justice' is not a proper matter for the criminal courts. Like any other matter of any decision by legal authorities between the interests of citizens or private organisations it can only be a matter for civil courts. Criminal cases always have the state, as represented by the crown, as one party.

    There is a reason that our symbolic representation of the abstract concept of justice wears a blindfold.

  2. No rational decisions should be made under the influence of fear. Victims of crimes are as biased as the criminals themselves; hence impartial juries!

  3. "We must examin the motives..." - and yours, pal.

    "...they ask society to translate their personal hate into public policy. They asks that we warp the criminal justics system into a mechanism that makes them happier." - Er, isn't that the point of your blog as well?

    "...attempts to influence policy...claim a special status, wrap themselves in a shroud of pain and claim some great insight into criminal justice..." - are you describing yourself again?

    Your argument comes from the same skewed perception as those of some victim groups - going to prison does not automatically qualify you as an expert on crime and justice either; however, I am more inclined to feel sympathy for the perspective of the victim, after all, they have no choice in the matter, unlike the offender.

    Yeah - victims and offenders need support and healing, but you aren't going to win many friends by victim-bashing. ;o)

    1. A good point well made anonymous. But I must disagree with you when you say "going to prison does not automatically qualify you as an expert on crime and justice either", you're completely right, no it doesn't, but how many experts on crime and justice have been through the penal system themselves and witnessed it first hand? Surely there must be some benefits from having personal experience from the inside rather than speculating at how it is 'supposed to run' or the 'strategies' put in place to improve the system.

      Also, if you take a little look to the right of your screen you will find Ben's bio, part of which reads "Ben chose to educate himself from a schoolboy level to having both undergraduate and post graduate degrees. He is currently one of very few prisoners in Britain ever to attempt a Doctorate. Ben's speciality is non-violent action and the Human Needs Theory. Now on Life Licence, I am forging a career as a CJ policy consultant". I now ask you, to withdraw your proposal that Ben doesn't know what he is talking about, he certainly knows a lot more than myself, and probably more than a lot of people who read his blog.

      I am often the first person to uphold the right of us each having our own opinions, as different as they may be, but when these opinions are ill advised and do not take into account the facts I begin to have a problem.


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