Last Monday,the organisation, Sri Lanka in 2050 hosted a seminar and panel discussion on “Capital Punishment’. I was invited as a speaker to address the forum comprising mostly the legal fraternity on the contentious and controversial topic.
Today I take the liberty of presenting extracts of my address to the readers of Nation.
“The first thing we do,” said the character in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, is “kill all the lawyers.”
Few can deny the fact that criminality is the bread and butter of most defence attorneys. If there was an absence of crime they might all but starve to death.
I do not say that all lawyers could be pigeonholed as black coated mercenaries. But I must say this: That 90 percent of your fraternity give the rest a bad name. The same could be said of the law enforcing department and our lawmaking and lawbreaking politicians who have helped turn the criminal justice system on its head. This is where we come to the criminalisation of politics which has reached unprecedented levels.
Many right-thinking people support the death penalty. Capital punishment is still to date a highly contentious and controversial issue amongst many societies, with religious, moral and political inputs all affecting the state’s position on ‘the death penalty’. To tell the truth? the whole truth and the whole the truth as they say on Hulftsdorp Hill there is no easy answer.
That is because the law is an ass and an idiot! The proverbial expression of the ‘ass’ being referred to here is the English colloquial name for a donkey. Yes, and not to be mistaken with the American term ‘ass’, which we will leave behind us at this point.
However, considering the flawed justice system in this neck of the woods many would support the American depiction as being more suitable.
The once proud image of the Police has taken one heck of a beating. Since 2013 and for several years running, Sri Lanka’s general public has ranked the Police as the most corrupt institution in the country. What stands out with shocking clarity in recent times is the striking exactness in which the department has been forced to admit that collusion among some of its top-ranking personnel with the underworld has been a key contributory factor to the rapidly surging crime wave. Yes, we all agree that if that be the case the noose is loose at present and necktie parties should also include some of his own murderous fellow officers as well as their political masters.
But even among people who support the death penalty in theory, many are beginning to have second thoughts about it in practice. This decline is being driven less by moral qualms about execution than about practical worries whether the right people are being executed. These pragmatic reservations also have a moral tinge.
That is because it is also true that hundreds of people in various parts of the world have been released from death row because proof of their innocence had subsequently been established.
A mountain of evidence can be produced to show that the legal process in Sri Lanka can be slipshod and biased. Actually Sri Lankan case law is filled with fact patterns of cases that you just wouldn’t believe. But they all beg the questions: How did this case ever go to trial? Or why did this case never get a hearing? Why are so many cases relegated to the back-burner and unjustly denied or delayed?
What justice has been provided to the victims of such atrocious abuses and their families? Many of the main arguments against the death penalty in Sri Lanka fall away in the case of some of the most horrendous crimes, particularly rape-killings. Why do we have to tolerate abuses of justice that let the innocent suffer and where wrongdoers go unpunished? Still, for some abolitionists all that seems beside the point.
Surely, one would not see the death penalty as inherently illiberal in such sadistic cases. When the state executes a murderer, it is not because it holds life in low esteem but precisely because it holds the lives of those that the murderer has dispatched in such high regard. All punishment contains an element of retribution as well as representing a statement by society. Execution in this regard is the strongest statement you can make.
Whatever arguments for and against the death penalty, rape is a sickening offence and the rape of a child is an unspeakable crime. Short of first-degree murder, I can think of no other horrendous crime more deserving of the death penalty. But again I stress only if the right person is charged with it. After all, we must concede that these are crimes that scream out to the heavens for retribution.
And if society objects to the hangman’s noose then there is always the effective alternative of chemical castration. Personally speaking, I would advocate old-fashioned emasculation without the palliative of anaesthesia.
The entire justice system needs a complete revamp. There can be no compromise about that. Until then the nation will regard the law as an ass in both the British and American equivalent. I rest my case.