Justice over Mercy in Matters of the Law

Shakespeare provides us with the finest characterisation of mercy. That ‘it is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’ Whilst this makes for a memorable soliloquy, the Bard omits from his description how it is only the party which has been wronged-against that can enact mercy for it to be of any worth. What we see in Queensland is the State Government having weakened laws and reduced sentences under the false guise of being merciful to criminals despite it not being its place to do so, making the goal of justice more difficult to attain. 

From a third-party position, which the State Government does enjoy, the only concern should be justice, not mercy. It is easy if you have not been harmed to enact mercy. Enacting justice however may be difficult, controversial, and require strong character to uphold. It is for that very reason that governments which fail to uphold these ideals are considered weak on crime. And the State Government falls nothing short of this apt criticism. 

In QLD, a catch and release policy has been enacted, falsely presuming that a stern talking to will result in behaviour change or ‘rehabilitation’ for repeat juvenile offenders. Labor have appointed the majority of District Court Judges – 33 out of 42 – which it knew had a history of finding irrelevant or farcical fault with police operations. This was alongside lowering fines for offenders, making the fines more proportional to their income. We have also seen all but one high security prison in Queensland become overcrowded, a reflection on the dismal investment in correctional services vital to ensuring the streets are kept safe. When prisons are full, sentences are artificially reduced. If there simply isn’t the space for an adequate sentence to be carried out, then there won’t be one. 

The practicalities of such measures and the resulting harms are clear for anyone who goes in search of them, but the underlying premises which prop up such inadequacies are of more concern. These premises are firstly that rehabilitation is an end in itself and any other aspects of the legal system are peripheral, but not necessary. Secondly, the idea that political institutions are the sole deliverers of just outcomes which gives politicians the false moral authority to diminish the ability of judges to deliver fair sentences. Being technocrats, these judges because of their very profession, experience, and training, are in a much better position to mediate between parties and distribute justice, without the government or prison shortages forcing them to be soft on crime.

The first premise which was mentioned is wrong, because we cannot disguise what is in fact a lack of empathy with noble and utopian but ultimately unsuccessful and mercurial notions of rehabilitation. You lack empathy for the victim if you want to see a guilty criminal be let off easy. For if that criminal has committed a crime then they have willingly abandoned their responsibilities regarding how they act towards others. The only way to enact justice is to have a proportional punishment which takes away the rights of the guilty in proportion to the responsibilities they have deserted. This balancing of rights and responsibilities is what forms the basis of our legal system and it cares not for circumstances, reasons, or anything else, only what has occurred. 

Think of the following hypothetical and artificial situation to illustrate this point - showing which value is more important to the justice system, and why this preference shouldn’t be perverted by politicians. A youth commits a violent crime and faces court. A medical professional fronts the court and converses directly with the magistrate. The professional claims that they have devised a fail-proof correctional method which ensures that the defendant will never reoffend again. The caveat being though that the method will only work if the defendant faces no form of punishment. The judge’s other choice is to rather to sentence the defendant to a punitive sentence risking a high chance of reoffending.

Now the judge is faced with these two very distinct options - that of enacting justice or that of the new rehabilitative program (mercy). The only right answer is the former. Justice for the victim, that the pain of one crime be paid with the transgressor’s own pain, is the only truly empathetic position to take. The criminal has lost nothing, nothing which they must not have been willing to lose having decided to commit the crime. 

The practical short-comings of Queensland Labor’s crime measures are numerous. More concerning is the arrogance in thinking which has led to them. The party presumes it can determine apt punishment when it is not its place to do so, it prioritises the wrong correctional objectives and it exhibits a profound lack of empathy. These are the underlying disasters which have propagated Queensland’s spike in petty crime seen under Labor’s administration. 

Samuel Chamberlain is member of the Young LNP

The views and opinions expressed in article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia.