5.2.6 Sentencing Lawbreakers: Courts and the Judiciary
Judges or magistrates, working in courts of law, are needed for sentencing lawbreakers to appropriate terms of punishment.
When someone has been apprehended for breaking the law, by the law enforcement agencies described above (5.2.5), they are taken to court. It is the function of the court to determine whether the person is truly guilty or not and to impose an appropriate punishment.
The police may be keen to catch lawbreakers, so that they appear to be efficient. It would be a conflict of interest if they were the ones to decide whether a person is guilty or not. Lawbreakers have the right to a fair trial, under Articles 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – included as Appendix 1.
The courts must also be independent of government. In many countries the law is used to suppress political opposition, as is alleged to be the case in Russia for example. Amnesty International reported that Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny has been sentenced to at least an additional 10 years in a penal colony, for “extremism”, commenting that:
“This new sentence against Aleksei Navalny to at least 10 more years in prison is little more than a stealthily imposed life sentence. It is also a sinister act of political vengeance that not only targets Navalny personally but serves as a warning to state critics across the country. The outcome of today’s sham trial offers just the latest example of the systematic oppression of Russian civil society that has intensified since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.”
The following sub-sections examine some aspects of sentencing lawbreakers:
● Law-courts can be in different formats (188.8.131.52). They can be adversarial or inquisitorial. Some are specialist. And juries are used in some courts.
● The appointment of judges is a sensitive issue (184.108.40.206). They might be selected or elected. Their impartiality is essential.
● Sentencing policy, within politically imposed guidelines, is best left to judges (220.127.116.11). Mandatory sentences are a political statement rather than a quest for justice.
● There is a need for a legal appeals process (18.104.22.168), to prevent miscarriages of justice. It can sometimes go beyond a country’s Supreme Court to international courts.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/526a.htm.