One Pound of Flesh, No More, No Less

What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchas’d slave,
Which, fike your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them; shall I say to you
‘Let them be free, marry them to your heirs?
Why sweat they under burdens? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours, and let their palates
Be season’d with such viands? You will answer
‘The slaves are ours.’ So do I answer you:
The pound of flesh which I demand of him
Is dearly bought; ’tis mine, and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon your law!
There is no force in the decrees of Venice.
I stand for judgment: answer; shall I have it?

Shylock, Merchant of Venice – Act IV, Scene I

Several bloggers have plenty to say on the subject of Harriet Harman’s proposal to allow the relatives of victims of murder or manslaughter to address the court before sentence is handed down; and none of it complimentary – see here, here and here for starters.

As ever what we have here is the importation of another Americanism into the UK legal system – courts in California certainly allow this kind of undignified spectacle – and, again, another example of government’s willingness to sacrifice the authority of Third Estate on the altar of populism in return for nothing more substantive than a favourable editorial in the Sun.

Quite what purpose will be served by forcing the judiciary to sit through a parade of mendicant relatives supplicating themselve before the bench in the hope of getting a pound and half of flesh is anyone’s guess; judges being a traditionally indepedent-minded lot are unlikely to succumb to this kind of blatant emotional blackmail – one can hardly imagine one going on to address the prisoner at the bar by saying…

“Well I was considering a minimum 15 year tariff but after Mrs Miggins’ performance I think I’ll up it to twenty and chuck in an extra five on account of her having to suffer the indignity of having to wear that hideous suit to court throughout the course of the trial.”

What a load of bollocks!

Is this going to have any impact at all on sentencing? No.

Is this going to make relatives feel better about things and be more inclined to think that justice has been done? Not really. In the kind of rare and completely egregious cases where a judge does decide that life should mean life then they may come away from it thinking that way but for the most part it really doesn’t matter what sentence the judge hands down, for grieving relatives its never going to be long enough.

The only people who might conceivably benefit from such a spectacle would be TV companies, were they to be permitted to televise trials as, at least, it would add a bit of theatre to proceedings.

Who knows, maybe that’s what really behind these proposals. Maybe the government have had an offer from Endemol but have been asked to jazz things up a bit to make it a bit more suitable for a TV audience.

Just think of the possibilities here.

“Hello and welcome to day 27 in the Big Brother Court and with jury having been summoned to the Diary Room, yesterday, to give their verdict – guilty of course, today we’ll be moving on to the sentencing…

Later in the programme we’ll be giving you the opportunity to vote for your choice of celebrity advocate for the grieving family.

Remember up to last night Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was looking like the favorite but we’ve been told there were a lot of votes overnight for young Nonentity from the Boy Band ‘Smarm’ – but now its over to catch up on all the action in the Judges chambers…”