The Scientific Indian

Baby Peter: Why protect the criminals

From BBC News:

The extra cost of providing security for the three people identified as allowing the death of Baby Peter could rise to £1m a year, a union has said.

For those outside in UK, this is a heart-wrenching case of a baby being tortured to death. After reading the above news, I wonder how far a society can push The Law before The Law reaches its breaking point. What is the justification for protecting those who tortured and killed a baby? If the criminal mother after release decides to have another baby, is it OK?

When I started this post, I was seething with anger. But, one must be careful not to be blinded by anger. I am trying to see the justification. Proper jurisprudence is the accumulation of wisdom through laborious historical precedents where all sides have been allowed to pull their weight. It is the only mitigation we have against barbaric revengeful acts. Still, there are fundamental issues at the very center of what our modern criminal justice systems however enlightened they may be. Punishment versus rehabilitation is one such hotly contested issue with a long running debate. To me, the debate seems to be for the most part an ethical and moral argument illuminated by history rather than an argument based on convincing evidence.

Is the moral argument sufficient to justify providing extra security for the killers of Baby Peter? I don’t know. How much extra security will be deemed enough? I am not a legal scholar, but when the courts had to heed to public anger and release the names of the criminals, the structural weakness of English Law (and all other ‘modern’ legal systems) was made plain. This the best we have got and it isn’t good enough. This case raises so many legal and moral questions that I doubt if I can ever understand and make peace with it.


  1. #1 MattMc
    August 11, 2009

    This case raises so many legal and moral questions that I doubt if I can ever understand and make peace with it.

    I agree. I’ve been angry since reading about this earlier. Part of me wants to see the perpetrators suffer, and the extra expense to protect them seems ridiculous, but if allowing sufficiently angry mobs to carry out justice is the alternative, then I am not so sure.

  2. #2 Dunc
    August 12, 2009

    I thought it was quite simple: no matter what you’ve done, you’re still entitled to basic protection from violence. It’s a fundamental and inalienable human right. That principle is the only thing separating us from mass lynchings.

    “What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? … And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?”

  3. #3 selva
    August 12, 2009

    hmm..the principle, as you say, is quite straight-forward. The dilemmas arise when practicing the principle, especially when we become aware of the cost of protecting criminals who have committed crimes that evoke extreme disgust and potential retaliation. I am also not so sure that we can let criminals (whatever their traumatic background/childhood is) escape facing social disapproval by changing their identity and rehabilitating them. That kind of arrangement bothers me greatly because it does not provide an opportunity for redemption/reconciliation for the criminal or the society that created him/her.

  4. #4 Dunc
    August 12, 2009

    I am also not so sure that we can let criminals … escape facing social disapproval by changing their identity and rehabilitating them.

    And here was me thinking that the appropriate means of expressing that social disapproval was by (a) trying them in court in accordance with the law, and (b) sending them to prison. I suppose leaving the whole business in the hands of torch-wielding mobs would be a lot cheaper…

  5. #5 opit
    August 12, 2009

    Everything changes with viewpoint.
    You say ‘protecting the criminals’ expenses will be excessive. I haven’t read the case – though I’ve run into earlier outrage. I do know a couple of things, though.
    Everybody talks about ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’. Do you realize that is a ‘Mission Statement’ that covers a system where the public prosecutor and police are encouraged to find citizens ‘guilty’ : something that ensures those who afford expert legal assistance can overcome state harassment…and the poor will not ?
    There are enough wrongful convictions exposed by DNA evidence to make one thing clear : English-style ‘Justice’….isn’t.
    In contrast, under Napoleonic Law false prosecution will likely cost the Public Prosecutor his civil position. At least in England you shouldn’t get colourful prosecutions designed to secure a reputation…so as to promote a person for re-election! Vive USA!
    When I hear any rant about expenses one thing is clear : the author hasn’t considered the cost to the state doesn’t occur as a transfer outside of the country, so is a negligible consideration..
    Another is…private or public facilities will make a profit and people will be employed. There is the biggest incentive to big jails there is : slave labour.
    Don’t think I’m kidding…just cynical.

  6. #6 selva
    August 12, 2009

    >I suppose leaving the whole business in the hands of torch-wielding mobs would be a lot cheaper

    Dunc, No. I agree with you on entitlement to basic protection from violence. My question (not directed at you but as a way for me to figure out) was: if we remove someone from their immediate society where they committed the crime, we don’t have the option of rehabilitation/reconciliation–of the criminal and those affected. ‘The mob’, in a sense, is the criminal’s family, friends and neighbors. Air-lifting someone permanently away from a mayhem they helped cause is no solution at all (I know you are not suggesting that. Just stating what I think.).

    opit, I am not venting anger, just trying to understand, like everyone who has followed this case is trying. Running a humanitarian penal system is expensive (sorry, can’t find a link for studies now, google should be able to give you numbers on this). But, that’s a choice a civil society must make to be civil. My question touching on the crucial tipping point: when would we say “this costs too much, let’s scale back, or better yet, stop”. Whether we are there today is debatable, but we cannot turn away from the question of cost because one day we will be there.

    That said, I do not think I am clear at all. There are many inconsistencies in my understanding as it stands now.

  7. #7 Our Own Justice
    September 2, 2009

    The reasons why the killers of Peter Connelly [Baby Peter] must pay for their crimes are outlined at:

  8. #8 MC
    November 1, 2009

    Let there be mob justice. The government’s authority cannot always be respected, and no concept of ethics applies to these animals. They are not people, and they cannot be allowed to live like people. There are only two appropriate places for them – the worst possible prison where they will be treated like the garbage they are, or the grave. Nobody has the right to treat them any better.

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