Crime and Punishment - Why do we punish offenders?
‘Punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal’ – Elizabeth Fry
Everyone has a view on law enforcement and criminal justice. Polls show that crime has now overtaken health, immigration and the economy as the domestic issue of most public concern. Resources allocated to the police, the courts and the prison and probation services are stretched as never before. Meanwhile, the number of fatal stabbings in England and Wales in the last twelve months is the highest since records began in 1946. The work of all those involved in criminal justice - from investigation and arrest through to trial, conviction and sentence - is now under intense scrutiny.
This is the context in which David Stockdale stands back to look at the big questions about crime and punishment. What is the purpose of punishment by the State? Why do we punish offenders at all? These issues have been discussed by political and moral philosophers for centuries - perhaps most notably by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. David Stockdale revisits the thinking of the early proponents of Utilitarianism and Retributivism and measures their principles against the framework, laid down by Parliament, which underpins the sentencing of offenders today.
The outcome of offending - the extent of physical injury or damage or economic loss caused - is now a significant factor in sentencing. In the case of certain offences, Parliament has provided for the imposition of a heavier sentence where the outcome has crossed a given threshold, irrespective of the offender’s personal culpability. The voice of the victim is now heard as an integral part of the sentencing process. Some commentators are asking whether these developments indicate an imperceptible shift away from long-accepted principles of Utilitarianism and, if they do, whether that is in the interests of a society seeking a civilised response to 21st century offending. Is the ghost of Retributivism, long thought safely buried, now rising from the grave?
About the speaker
David Stockdale is a Senior Circuit Judge, the Resident Judge at Manchester Crown Court and the Honorary Recorder of Manchester.
Born and raised in Yorkshire, he was educated at Giggleswick and at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he read Classics, before embarking on a career in the law. He practised as a barrister in Manchester for 35 years, 15 as Queen’s Counsel, before becoming a Circuit Judge in 2010. He was appointed to his present post in 2013. He now sits exclusively on criminal cases and is authorised to hear cases of murder, manslaughter and terrorism and to sit in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division. He is a Deputy High Court Judge and a Bencher of Middle Temple.
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