August 23, 2007

Murdering Mr Lawrence

The murder of Phillip Lawrence, a school headmaster, shocked the United Kingdom. A family man and a good man, Lawrence was a public servant of the first order and was shot for no apparant reason. Today it appears that his murderer may after twelve years of incarceration be released in the United Kingdom and not be deported back to his native Italy. The full story is laid out here. Hysteria has recently whipped up in the UK over the idea that this murderer Learco Chindoma won a court case against the Home Office over his deportation. There are two issues though that this event raises in my mind and both are worth exploring.

The first is over sentencing. The hysteria about Mr Chindoma no doubt relates to the terrible nature of his crime. Mr Chindoma murdered a man who deserved praise not gunshots for his work. There are no ways of understanding the loss of a father or a husband at an early age, and worse still to lose that person through a callous murder. Sentencing often seems to those who are inexpert quite light for many crimes. Terrorist offenders for instance are in the end let out in the United Kingdom sometimes after sentences as low as two or three years are passed upon them. Mr Chindoma it appears is no further danger to the community but justice is not purely about treatment, it is also a political mechanism by which the vigilante within us all is quieted before the majesty of the law. It seems at least arguable that Mr Chindoma should have been sentenced to a longer time given the horror of the murder that he committed. Obviously one cannot comment on the parole board's assessment of the facts about his capacity to leave prison, I do not have the facts to do so, but I think in this case Mr Chindoma's release furthers the impression that the justice system does not deal fairly with those who commit heinous crimes.

That sense has some fairly disastrous political consequences. It strengthens the route to vigilantiism. It strengthens the argument to relax evidentiary rules, the cornerstone of modern democracy and indeed perhaps more important than the right to vote in sustaining a liberal regime. It also reinforces the conviction that many have that being in favour of incarceration and not the death penalty means being in favour of releasing every criminal eventually no matter how heinous the crime. As an opponent of the death penalty, based on miscarriages of justice like that of the case of Randall Adams, that seems to me to be a dangerous impression to give people and further undermines the case against the death penalty. Ultimately a justice system is about sustaining the political government of justice as much as it is about justice itself- cases like this where a murderer or even in some cases a terrorist are released early don't help those who wish to defend that political government of justice.

The second is over Mr Chindoma's location once he is released. Here the article I quoted above is useful. Mr Chindoma for family reasons carries Italian citizenship, but he does not speak Italian and was last there when he was five and is now my age, twenty six. When he completes his sentence its worth considering whether the court is right, that the country in which he knows people, has friends and family should be the country that receives him, rather than the country that strictly he was born in and also his mother was from. Mr Chindoma is British by everything apart from genetics and nativity, he has spent more time here than anywhere else and even has British qualifications. The question of where he is released to must be separated from the question of whether he is released. The first is an issue about sentencing for all criminals, the second is about Mr Chindoma's true country of origin. Its worth remembering that had Mr Chindoma a British passport nothing about this case would have changed save that his deportation would not even have been a question.

This points to me not to the fact that it is immigration law which is wrong but to the idea that it is sentencing law which in this case was inadequate. Basically Mr Chindoma should be released if the Independent is right in its survey of the case within this country, but whether he should be released now is a different question. I feel a personal deep disquiet that I cannot really justify about him being released now- his crime was awful- and about others who have committed like crimes being released after a similar length of time. The controversy over his deportation reflects the fact that the public shares my disquiet- whereas I feel that the direction of the agitation is wrong, I'm not sure that the agitation itself is wrong. Mr Chindoma should spend more time in prison but should be released within this country.

4 comments:

Ed said...

Phillip Lawrence was stabbed to death

Witchfinder General said...

Chindamo was sentenced to a minimum of 12 years. That doesn’t mean he will be released when his 12 years are completed. I hope he is not. As for his country of residence on his release, I care not about where he lives, as long as it is not in the UK. Your comment about him living in the UK if he was British is irrelevant. The fact is he is not. He should be deported on release, to suggest otherwise is crass political correctness. If he cannot speak his native tongue or has no family in his home country, well that is too bad, but that is his problem. Perhaps he should have thought about that before he murdered Mr Lawrence.

Political Umpire said...

Lawrence was stabbed, not shot. it was after he intervened in the killer's gang beating up a pupil at his school.

The sentencing regime has changed since then so that if found guilty now, the killer would get a longer minimum term.

He's had plenty of time to learn Italian these past twelve years. Knowing he was going to be deported, he should have made an effort to learn.

He has never admitted being the killer. That should disqualify him from release.

Gracchi said...

Ed and Political Umpire: apologies for the mistake, blogging from abroad and I forgot to check out what had happened and relied on the faulty memory!

Witchfinder General I disagree in part he is our responsibility and furthermore it doesn't address teh underlying point which is that there could equally be a problem if he was British. besides which as a European Union national he could just exit and return.

Poltical Umpire- yes interesting points on the probationary issue- I agree with you about his release on twelve years- but that is what the court has decided, and given what you've said maybe they have got it wrong.