Barbro Froding

The Accused or the Accuser?

In the BBC Radio program Jeopardising Justice (here) Helena Kennedy QC spoke about the rise of ‘the victims’ movement’. The 1970s saw a legal reform that marked a watershed in the treatment of victims throughout the judicial system. Once marginalised and passive, victims are now centre-stage in many a judicial process. Kennedy, a fervent champion of the movement in her early career, set out to explore whether the victim’s voice had become so strong that it now threatens the rights of the defendants. The program feeds into the broader debate on whether or not this well intended reform has gone too far and now it is the defendants who risk being marginalised.

Earlier this month the related discussion on whether or not police should have to visit every crime victim flared up again (here). In Sweden there is currently a very heated debate on how rape victims are treated in the courts and the rights of the defendants (here and here) involving, for example, a District Prosecutor saying that there are different types of rape some of which he labels as ‘scarier’ than others. Meanwhile, in the wake of the resent release of the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds (here) it has been argued that the Scottish Government lost sight of the real victims and that the appropriate display of virtuous compassion would have been better directed at their families rather than a convicted mass-murderer (here).

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The good example

Last time I wrote about our potential to model ourselves on others, to be inspired by the good example they might be setting.  In this blog I shift the focus to the role model and the idea of leading by example. How might we recognise the appropriate role model – and perhaps more pressingly – what might the qualification criteria be? There has been a lot of debate on the importance of a strong leadership recently and it seems that expressions like ‘leading by example’, ‘walk the talk’ and ‘leading from the front’ are all the rage. (For some examples ranging from politicians to celebrities see here, here, here and here). At first on-look the idea of setting a good example might indeed sound both attractive and intuitive. Of course one can be inspired by role models; surely observing the deeds and practices of others can trigger a genuine desire to reform one’s behaviour! But do we have good reasons to be so optimistic?

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On a happier note

Starting with the financial crisis back in autumn it seems that greed and poor judgement are two persistent themes this year. While mankind was not entirely unfamiliar with the plague of greed prior to October 2008, recent events have meant that hardly a day goes by when such vicious matters do not make the headlines in one form or another. Attending an Oxford college ceremony the other day gave a bit of a historical perspective on how to deal with greed. The ‘pennies from the tower’ ceremony involved (or used to involve in times prior to current health and safety regulations) inviting a group of impoverished children onto the college lawn and then letting the pennies rain down from the tower above. But as they started to scurry around, fighting each other for the coins, they noticed that the pennies were hot. Piping hot. This was considered an excellent way to teach the children that greed is a vice and that there is no such thing as a free lunch. No doubt the blisters on their little hands would have served as an efficient reminder of this harsh lesson. One of the problems with this practice is it is far from clear that brute force the best way to introduce more positive values and behavioural patterns in people. Indeed, it is not even clear that the threat of punishment and public humiliation works as a deterrent.

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