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One of the most common misconceptions is that justice means getting what you want. It is a misconception that is not only wrong, but one that also carries the very real risk of perverting the course of justice. As the legal farce against Cardinal George Pell has proven: when such a belief is commonly held, it can lead to the imprisonment of innocent people and the disgrace of the entire legal system.
The Pell legal fiasco involved two trials and two appeals which culminated in George Pell’s conviction for historic child sex abuse being overturned by the High Court of Australia. The two trials began in August 2018 in the Victorian County Court. Pell pleaded not guilty to all charges. The first trial ended in a mistrial after the jury proved unable to deliver a verdict. The second trial ended in a guilty predict.
After his sentencing, Pell’s defence team appealed to Victoria’s Appeals Court. They argued that Pell’s conviction “could not be supported by the whole of the evidence” and that, therefore, no reasonable jury could have found him guilty. It was an unusual approach. Most appeals will attempt to overturn a jury verdict by arguing that the trial judge failed to properly instruct the jury. Pell’s defence team, on the other hand, were claiming that the jury itself made the error. In order to show that the jury verdict was “not open”, Pell’s defence team had to show that the evidence presented at trial “precluded a guilty verdict.” As the Court of Appeals stated:
“Where the unreasonableness ground is relied upon, the task for the appeal court is to decide whether, on the whole of the evidence, it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty.
The inquiry which this ground requires is a purely factual one, rather than a discrete question of law where the agreement is that the trial judge has made an error. When the reasonableness ground is relied upon, the appeal court reviews the evidence as it was presented to the jury. The appeal court asks itself whether – on that factual material – it was unreasonably open to the jury to convict the accused.”
According to the Court of Appeal’s review, the prosecution’s case rested on the argument that the accuser was a credible witness upon whom the jury could justify a guilty verdict. This view was shared by both Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Justice Chris Maxwell:
“Throughout his evidence, [the complainant] came across as someone who was telling the truth. He did not seek to embellish his evidence or tailor it in a manner favourable to the prosecution. As might have been expected, there were somethings which he could remember and many things which he could not. And his explanations of why that was so had the ring of truth.”
Conversely, both Ferguson and Maxwell judged that there was justifiable reason to doubt the testimonies of the “opportunity witnesses” whose testimonies contradicted the prosecution’s case. Ferguson and Maxwell both found that “the evidence of the opportunity witnesses varied greatly in quality and consistency, and in the degree of recall, both as witnesses and within the evidence of individual witnesses.” They argued that the repetition of events combined with the lengthy passage of time had conspired to put the validity of their testimonies under question. Incredibly, both Ferguson and Maxwell were willing to accept the accuser’s testimony as a true and accurate version of events even though their reasons for discounting the testimonies of the opportunity witnesses could be applied just as easily to him as it could to the others.
The Victorian Court of Appeals upheld Pell’s conviction with a two-to-one majority. The lone dissenter, Justice Mark Weinberg delivered a two-hundred-and-four-page dissent statingthat “in light of the unchallenged evidence of the opportunity witnesses, the odds against [A’s] account of how the abuse occurred, would have to be substantial.” Weinberg did not believe that the prosecution had successfully discounted the testimonies of the “opportunity witnesses” and concluded that a reasonable jury would not have been able to reach a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Unperturbed, Pell’s defence team applied to appeal to the High Court. It was granted because the highest court in the land believed there was sufficient argument to suggest that Pell had been convicted on insufficient evidence. Pell’s defence team based their appeal on the argument that Pell’s conviction could not be supported by the evidence and that the Court of Appeals had misapplied the legal test by requiring him to prove that the offending was impossible.
According to the High Court Summary, ‘A’ (the accuser is identified as ‘A’ in the High Court summary) testified that ‘B’ and himself had slipped out of the procession as it was approaching the metal gate to the toilet corridor. (A full description of both the layout of the Cathedral and the procession are contained within the High Court summary). From there they re-entered the Cathedral through the door to the south transept, made their way into the sacristy corridor, slipped into the Priest’s sacristy, and partook in a bottle of red communion wine. ‘A’ alleged that Pell caught them, exposed his penis, orally raped ‘A’, and forced his to remove him trousers so he could fondle his genitals. At this stage both ‘A’ and ‘B’ were crying and Pell is alleged to have told them to be quiet. ‘A’ further claimed that Pell re-assaulted him a month later by pushing him up against a wall and fondling his genitals.
The Court of Appeals had found ‘A’ to be a credible witness, partly because he had knowledge of the interior layout of both the interior of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and the Priest’s sacristy. (Clearly it didn’t occur to them that he could have attained such knowledge without being abused). There are, however, two problems with ‘A’s testimony. The first concerns the lack of opportunity Pell would have had to commit the crime without being caught. If ‘A’, the prosecution, Ferguson, and Maxwell are to be believed, Pell was a brazen enough offender to molest two choir boys directly after Sunday Mass when the chances of getting caught would have been extremely high.
The second concerns the time of the offending. The prosecution placed the date range for the alleged offending between December 15th and 22nd 1996 for the first offence and February 23rd for the second offence. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was closed for renovations between Easter and November 1996. After it was reopened, Pell officiated two Sunday masses there – December 15th and 22nd December and presided over, though he did not celebrate, Sunday solemn mass on February 23rd, 1997. During this time, renovations to the Archbishop’s sacristy forced him to use the Priest’s sacristy, further enhancing the likelihood of getting caught.
It should come as little surprise that High Court found major inconsistencies between the way the Court of Appeals regarded the accuser’s testimony and the way they regarded the testimony of the “opportunity witnesses”:
“The Court of Appeal majority’s treatment of what their Honours rightly identified as the critical issue in the case was wrong for two reasons. First, Portelli’s evidence was unchallenged. Secondly, their Honours were required to reason in a manner that is consistent with the way in which a jury would be directed in accordance with the Jury Direction Act 2015 (Vic). Their Honours were required to take into account the forensic disadvantage experienced by the applicant arising from the delay of some 20 years in being confronted with these allegations. Their Honours, however, reasoned to satisfaction of the applicant’s guilt by discounting a body of evidence that raised lively doubts as to the commission of the offences because they considered the likelihood that the memories of honest witnesses might have been affected by delay.”
The testimony of Monsignor Charles Portelli, the former Master of Ceremonies, was of particular interest to the High Court. As Master of Ceremonies, Portelli’s duties included meeting Pell when he arrived at the Cathedral, assisting him with his vestments, and so on. Portelli testified that the two occasions Pell celebrated Mass in December 1996 were memorable because of the large number of people who wanted to meet Pell. He recalled standing beside Pell during the procession and seeing Pell hand his mitre and crosier to two altar boys whilst he stood at the west door greeting congregants. During the cross examination, Portelli stated that whilst it was possible that Pell only remained at the west door greeting people for a couple of minutes, he did not remember it. Furthermore, Portelli testified that even if he had, Pell would have been accompanied by Max Potter or another Priest.
Sacristan Max Potter concurred with much of Portelli’s testimony. Potter claimed that Pell spent twenty minutes to half-an-hour greeting congregants. When asked he stated that whilst it was possible for Pell to have left earlier than normal, it would have been unlikely at first because “it took him [Pell] a while to readjust, and [he] stayed in there welcoming people for a couple of months in the Cathedral.” Potter also backed up Portelli’s assertion that Pell would not have returned to the Priest’s sacristy to remove his vestments alone. Furthermore, Potter stated that he unlocked the Priest’s sacristy as the procession was making its way down the centre aisle and that he gave congregants five to six minutes to pray in the sanctuary before he and the altar servers removed the sacred vessels, a task that generally took around a quarter-of-an-hour.
Potter was suffering memory issues during Pell’s trial. In particularly, his testimony makes it unclear as to when exactly he unlocked the Priest’s sacristy. Other witnesses, however, also testified in Pell’s favour. Both Doctor Cox, the assistant organist, and Peter Finnigan, the choir marshal, recalled the Priest’s sacristy being a “hive of activity” following the Mass. Likewise, Jeffrey Connor and McGlone, both of whom were altar servers at the time, stated that they could recall no occasion in which the Priest’s sacristy had been left either unlocked or unattended. They testified that Potter had been waiting to unlock the Priest’s sacristy so they could bow to the crucifix and complete their duties.
Connor wrote of Pell’s “invariable” practice of greeting congregants on the steps of the Cathedral in his personal diary. Connor testified that he had never seen Pell alone whilst wearing his vestments, and that if he had the event would certainly have been memorable. McGlone concurred with Connor’s version of events testifying that he understood the Archbishop’s vestments were sacred and that certain prayers had to be said as they were being donned or removed. McGlone recalled he and his mother having a brief interaction with Pell.
The High Court unanimously concluded that no reasonable jury, working to the standard that guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, could find George Pell guilty. They found that the possibility of reasonable doubt arising from the unchallenged evidence of multiple witnesses should have prompted the jury to entertain the possibility of reasonable doubt. As a result, they overturned Pell’s conviction.
It is not difficult to see Pell as a casualty of the broader culture war – the ideological conflict over the fate of western culture – that has enveloped modern society. Pell’s outspoken traditionalism and fervent Catholicism combined with his contentious views on gay marriage, the morning-after pill, and the ordination of women has made him persona non grata for many social groups. Combine this with the Catholic Church’s admittedly abysmal response to child sex abuse allegations, and it isn’t hard to see why Pell was targeted. It is as though they thought they could punish the Church by convicting Pell.
It should go without saying that the sexual abuse of a child, whether it is committed by a stranger, a scoutmaster, or a Catholic Cardinal is abhorrent. It is more than reasonable to hold child abusers accountable for their crimes. However, it is more important to uphold those principles upon which our legal system is based. It is these principles that have allowed us to live in freedom and (relative) prosperity for as long as we have.
Although most people recognise the necessity of legal protections against miscarriages of justice, many do not believe that these protections should extend to people accused of sex crimes. There is an alarming trend where politicians attempt to use the spectre of child abuse to curry favour with the public. In many cases, these attempts involve violating time honoured legal principles. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, for example, has made several recommendations that state governments have only been too eager to lap up. Among the Royal Commission’s recommendations have been the abolition of statutory limitations on child sex abuse allegations and reformations to evidence law so juries can learn more about a defendant’s past.
In 2020, Victoria’s Attorney General, Martin Pakula introduced the Limitations of Actions Amendment (Child Abuse) Act 2015 which exempted cases where injuries had been acquired from the psychological, physical, or sexual abuse of a minor from the usual statutory limitations. Similarly, the Conversation reported in February 2020 that the New South Wales government had introduced a new would that would “make it easier for a jury to be informed about the prior convictions of a person on trial for a sex offence.” Similar laws are expected to be introduced in Victoria, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory.
These blatant violations of western legal jurisprudence have emerged from a pernicious belief that all who claim to have been sexually abused must be telling the truth. Pell’s lone accuser perfectly summarised this view in his statement following the High Court’s decision:
“I respect the decision of the High Court. I respect the outcome. I understand their view that there was not enough evidence to satisfy the court beyond all reasonable doubt that the offending occurred.
No one wants to live in a society where people can be imprisoned without due process and proper processes. This is a basic civil liberty. But the price we pay for weighting the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished.”
Merely being accused of a crime does not make someone guilty. Our legal system requires that guilt be proven beyond a reasonable doubt Weighting the system in the favour of the ‘victim’, as Pell’s accuser is suggesting, is no different than weighting the system in favour of the state. Under such circumstances a defendant would have no chance of defending himself against any charge brought against him.
Shortly after he was convicted, Anne Manne wrote in The Monthly that Pell’s conviction “enacted the dignity and power of the rule of law.” In reality, precisely the opposite happened. The rule of law is defined by the Australian Constitution Centre as “the idea that every person is subject to the laws of the land regardless of their status. It is the idea that you cannot be punished or have your rights affected other than in accordance with a law, and only after a breach of the law has been established in a court of law.” George Pell was treated with a special kind of vindictiveness because he was a Catholic Cardinal. He was not treated like everybody else.
The Rule of Law is supposed to be the opposite of the rule of power. It recognises that whilst it may be necessary to have leaders, no one individual ought to be master over his fellows. As Clive Staples Lewis once noted: “Aristotle said that some men were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.” The Rule of Law is supposed to reflect the fact that Australia is a nation governed by law, not by rulers. The Australian legal system has tainted this principle by treating George Pell differently just because he is a Cardinal.
The George Pell legal fiasco has revealed deep corruption inside the Victorian legal establishment. When one considers the Supreme Court of Victoria and the Court of Appeals proclivity to ignore evidence that did not support the prosecution, the weakness of the prosecution’s case, and the relentless media witch hunt, it is hard not to think of the Pell trial as anything less than a calculated attempt to silence an outspoken conservative Cardinal. When cases like Pell’s come along, we should remind ourselves of that old Latin maxim: “let just be done though the heavens fall.”
The Jury System is a cornerstone of justice and liberty. However, they are also controversial. On the one hand, there are those who see the jury system as an integral part of a free and impartial justice system. On the other hand, there are those who doubt the jury’s ability to deliver fair and honest verdicts.
Let’s start with the obvious fact that juries are far from perfect. They are imperfect because the people who make them up are imperfect. Ignorance is one major problem. Opponents of the jury system argue, with some justification, that it is too dangerous to place the fate of another human being in the hands of people incapable of understanding the complexities of the cases they are judging. Often those tasked with deciding the outcome of cases lack the technical or legal knowledge to adequately interpret the evidence and testimony being presented to them. It has been suggested that in these cases individual jurors will often resort to pre-conceived beliefs or allow themselves to be influenced by jurors with more knowledge – whether real or perceived – than they have.
Ignorance, however, is an easily solved problem. Why not select jury members based on their familiarity with the subject matters under discussion? Someone who works in the finance industry – bankers, financial advisors, accountants, and so forth – would be more equipped to judge financial-based crimes than the layperson.
Then there’s the question of who can sit on a jury. In the United Kingdom an individual needs to be aged between eighteen and seventy, have been a resident of the UK for at least five years since the age of thirteen, and must be mentally stable to serve on a jury. It would more than reasonable to suggest that qualifications for jury duty ought to be more stringent than they are. It is more than reasonable to suggest that the age limit ought to be raised from eighteen to perhaps twenty-five (if not older) and that jurors under the age of forty ought to have certain intellectual qualifications. This would ensure that those tasked with determining guilt or innocence would have the wisdom and/or intelligence to comprehend the grave nature of the responsibility they have been burdened with.
Those who criticise juries also argue that they are prone to bias and prejudice. In one shocking case, Kasim Davey was jailed for contempt when he boasted: “I wasn’t expecting to be in a jury deciding a paedophile’s fate. I’ve always wanted to fuck up a paedophile and now I’m within the law.” (Seemingly it never occurred to Mr. Davey that the man he was judging may have been innocent). Likewise, it is well known that many African American defendants were condemned by all-white juries in the Jim Crow South.
However, much of this is a red-herring. Professor Cheryl Thomas, the director of the Jury Program at University College of London, spent ten years analysing every jury verdict in England and Wales taking into account the race and gender of both defendants and jurors. Professor Thomas concluded that:
“There’s no evidence of systematic bias, for instance, against members of ethnic minorities, or that men are treated differently than women, that if you live in a particular part of the country or you have a certain background that you’re more likely to be convicted than others.”
Besides, those who criticise the jury system forget that juries reflect the values and principles of their society. If juries repeatedly deliver unjust verdicts it is because there is a sickness in that society. The fact that all-white juries tended to convict African American defendants merely because they were black is a reflection on the virulently racist nature of that society, not of the jury system itself. Today, the legal system is careful to disqualify those jurors who may harbour prejudices that will inhibit their ability to judge the facts impartially. Courts are very quick to disqualify jurors who may know the defendant or alleged victim, those with emotional links to the case (i.e. a victim of rape sitting on the jury of a rape trial), and so forth.
Lord Devlin, the second-youngest man to be appointed to the English High Court in the 20th century, once described the jury system as “the lamp which shows where freedom lives.” The principle behind juries is that the individual ought to be judged by his peers based on community standards, not by the politically elite. Without juries, our legal system would be dominated by judges and lawyers. What lies at the centre of the debate over juries is the question of whether the whole of society or just the elite should be involved in the dispensation of justice.
In February 2013, Vassar College student, Xialou “Peter” Yu was accused of sexual assault by fellow student, Mary Claire Walker. The accusation stemmed from an incident occurring twelve months previously in which Walker had accompanied Yu back to his dorm room after a party and initiated consensual sex. Walker herself broke off the coitus early. She had decided that it was too soon after ending her relationship with her boyfriend to embark on a sexual relationship with another man. She even expressed remorse for having “lead Yu on” and insisted that he had done nothing wrong.
Nevertheless, at some point, Walker decided that she had been sexually assaulted and Yu was mandated to stand before a college tribunal. At this tribunal, Yu was refused legal representation, had his attempts at cross-examining his accuser repeatedly stymied, and potential eyewitness testimonies from both Yu and Walker’s roommates were suppressed by the campus gender equality compliance officer. Supposedly because they had “nothing useful to offer.” In what can only be described as a gross miscarriage of justice, Yu was found guilty and summarily expelled.
Unfortunately, the kind of show trials that condemned Yu is not entirely uncommon in American colleges and universities (and, like many social diseases, are starting to infect Australian campuses, as well). They are the result of years of unchallenged feminist influence on upper education. These institutions have swallowed, hook, line, and sinker, the feminist lie that every single woman who claims to be sexually assaulted must be telling the truth.
The problem begins with those who make public policy. The US Department of Education has been seduced by the ludicrous idea that modern, western societies are a “rape culture.” They have brought into the lie that one-in-five women are sexually assaulted on college campuses, despite the fact that this statistic (which conveniently seems to come up with exactly the same ratio no matter where it’s used) comes from an easily disproven web-based survey.
This survey, which was conducted at two universities in 2006, took only fifteen minutes to complete and had a response rate of just 5466 undergraduate women aged between eighteen and twenty-five. Furthermore, it was poorly formulated with researchers asking women about their experiences and then deciding how many of them had been victims of sexual misconduct.
Regardless, the lack of credibility that this survey possessed did not stop the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights from laying out guidelines for handling reports of sexual misconduct. Among these recommendations was that reports of sexual misconduct should be evaluated on the “preponderance of evidence” rather than the more traditional “clear and convincing evidence.” This radical shift in standards of proof means that accuser only has to prove that there is a reasonable chance that a sexual assault occurred rather than having to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
It would be an understatement to say the college and university rape tribunals – and the policies that inform them – violate every legal principle and tradition of western law. American colleges and universities have created an environment in which male students can be stigmatised as sexual deviants with little to no evidence aside from an accusation. These tribunals not only violate standards of proof but the presumption of innocence, as well.
That these tribunals have decided to do away with the presumption of innocence should hardly come as a surprise. After all, the mere idea of the presumption of innocence is antithetical to human nature. It is natural for human-beings to presume that someone is guilty just because they have been accused of something. As the Roman jurist, Ulpian pointed out: the presumption of innocence flies in the face of that seductive belief that a person’s actions always result in fair and fit consequences. People like to believe that someone who has been accused of a crime must have done something to deserve it.
The presumption of innocence is the greatest legal protection the individual has against the state. It means that the state cannot convict anyone unless they can prove their guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. We should be willing to pay any price to preserve it. And we certainly shouldn’t allow extra-legal tribunals to do away with it just to satisfy their ideological proclivities.
In March of 2015, a Coloradan woman, Michelle Wilkins, was lured to a meet-up arranged on Craigslist and brutally attacked. During the attack, Wilkins, who was seven months pregnant, had her unborn child cut from her body. Wilkins survived the attack but, sadly, her child did not. And, as if to add insult to injury, Wilkin’s unborn child was not recognised as human under Coloradan law.
Legal abortion – which I will define as the state approved murder of an innocent life – is a barbarity no civilised society should tolerate. As the Canadian clinical psychologist and YouTube sensation, Jordan Peterson (1962 – ) commented, “abortion is clearly wrong. You wouldn’t recommend someone you love have one.”
However, this is not to say that abortion isn’t a deeply complex and emotive issue. On the one hand, it is a procedure often used by desperate or easily persuaded women who feel that aborting their unborn child is the only option open to them (which it very rarely is). On the other hand, it is a form of murder cynically exploited by feminist extremists for political purposes.
Pro-choice proponents have several arguments in favour of total and free access to abortion.
The first argument, and the one that carries the greatest degree of credibility, concerns the health of the mother and her ability to safely carry a child to term. The Washington Post, for example, reported a story about an Indian girl who had been repeatedly raped and eventually impregnated by her uncle. An abortion was performed when it was decided she was too young to carry her child to term.
In all honesty, this is a sentiment which I have a great deal of sympathy for. It is very difficult for a woman to be a mother if she is dead, and it would be as wrong to sacrifice the life of the mother for the child as it would be to sacrifice the life of the child for the sake of the mother.
But the argument that abortion is necessary when the health of the mother is in jeopardy does not necessarily translate into the full, absolute, and unquestionable right to abortion. It is merely an argument for the preservation of the life of the mother.
The second argument concerns the health of vitality of the child itself. Often, however, this kind of argument is often used as a disguise for a desire to engage in eugenics. Claiming that a child with down syndrome should be aborted, for example, is the same as saying that people afflicted with certain maladies should not be afforded the same right to life as everybody else.
The third argument concerns instances where pregnancy has been instigated through an act of rape or incest. Whether or not rape should be sufficient grounds for an abortion is a tricky one to grapple with. On the one hand, the mother did not choose to be placed in the situation she has found herself in. And, by extension, birthing, and most probably raising, a child borne of rape may prove to be an insurmountable emotional turmoil for the mother. On the other hand, however, the child did not choose to be conceived through rape, and it is immoral to punish an innocent person for the crimes of another.
In reality, however, the rape justification for abortion is merely a red herring. It is a backdoor method for justifying the total, absolute, and unquestionable access to abortion.
The fourth argument concerns the idea that a woman has the right to abort her unborn child because she has the absolute right to bodily autonomy. In Texas last year, Judge Earl Leroy Yeakel III (1945 – ) overturned Senate Bill Eight which prevented doctors from performing evacuation and dilation abortions by mandating that a child’s heart must stop beating before the procedure can be performed. Yeakel claimed that the decision to abort a child outside the womb is “solely and exclusively the woman’s decision.”
This is the easiest argument to refute. An abortion does not only affect a woman’s body, it also destroys the life of a separate, innocent human being. Furthermore, the right to choose when to have a family is one shared by all people up to a point. A man has the right to wear a condom, he can have a vasectomy, and so forth. Likewise, a woman has every right to use contraceptive birth control, a diaphragm, a female condom, a cervical cap, an intrauterine device, and more. Couples can even refrain from having sex. But the right to family planning ends the moment a child has been conceived.
The fifth argument, and the one that is the most egregious, is the argument that an unborn child does not count as a human life. Much of this is the result of language. We use Latin words like “foetus” and “embryo” to fool ourselves into believing an unborn child is not a human being.
Therein lies the rub. People have always justified evil and immorality by altering the parameters of their morals to suit themselves. People have always justified murder by claiming that the person they are killing is not human. They may argue, for example, that murder is wrong, but that they are justified in aborting their unborn child because they do not see that child as human.
And the biological and physiological question of whether the unborn child is a human being is, without any shadow of a doubt, yes.
This is the case right down to the genetic level. Virtually every cell in our bodies contains thirty thousand or more different genes that are spread out on long strands of DNA known as chromosomes. Now DNA is very special. It is the chemical building block that makes us who we are. It determines whether or not we will go bald, what our eye and hair colour will be, how tall we will be, and much more besides.
If there is anything that DNA is good at it’s replicating itself. This can occur in two ways. At the most basic level, DNA replicates itself through cloning. At the most complex, one set of DNA merges with another set of DNA through sexual intercourse. And in doing so it creates an entirely unique individual.
But how can it do this safely? The answer lies in a process known as meiosis. When the human body makes sex gametes – sperm and ovum – it does so by making a copy of a previous cell. When it does this it keeps itself attached at one point and then condenses to make an ‘X’ shape. The four chromosomes then embrace and transfer some of their genetic material to each other. Finally, the cell split twice to create new sperm or ovum that carries a unique genetic package.
In other words, every sperm cell and every ovum carry a set of chromosomes that has never existed before and will never exist again.
Human beings have a grand total of forty-six chromosomes or twenty-three pairs. The moment a child has been conceived a full set of these chromosomes, known as a diploid, is established. It will receive twenty-three chromosomes from its father and twenty-three chromosomes from its mother.
The average pregnancy lasts between thirty-seven and forty-two weeks. During this time the child growing inside a woman’s body will go through all kinds of wonderful and miraculous changes. At three weeks, it’s brain, heart, gastrointestinal tract, and spinal cord have begun to form. By the fourth and fifth weeks, the heart is pumping rudimentary blood through the child’s veins with a steady rhythm. By the sixth week, the child’s fingers and toes have begun to form, and the child’s heartbeat can now be detected. By the end of the second month, all the child’s essential organs have begun to form.
And there’s still another seven months to go! By the fourteenth to sixteenth weeks, the child will begin to move around, its liver and pancreas will have begun to secrete fluid, and its fingerprints will begin to form. By the seventeenth to the twentieth week, the mother will be able to feel her child moving around inside her, it’s heartbeat will be detectable via a stethoscope, and its fingernails, toenails, eyebrows, and eyelashes will have started to grow.
By the twenty-fourth through to the twenty-sixth week, the child’s brain will be rapidly developing, the nervous system will be developed to a sufficient enough degree to give the child some control, albeit minutely, over its own movements, it will have developed a startle reflex, and its sleeping cycles will be perceptible to the mother. A child born at this stage can survive outside the womb with the assistance of modern medical technology. By the thirty-third to thirty-sixth week, the child will shift into the birthing position and will rapidly put on weight. Within weeks, a fully formed human being will be born.
Any discussion about abortion must begin with the scientific truth that an unborn child is a human life. Only after that truth has been acknowledged can factors like the health of the mother, the vitality of the child, cases of rape and incest, and bodily autonomy can be considered. The preservation of innocent life is the most important responsibility for every person living in a free society. The way we respond to this issue will define us for decades to come.
February 3rd last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the execution of Ronald Ryan (1925 – 1967), the last man to be hanged in Australia. Since then, the general consensus has been that the death penalty constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment. Contrarily, however, it is the opinion of this author that the death penalty is not only just, but a key part of any justice system.
There are two main arguments against the death penalty. First, that it is an exceptionally expensive form of punishment. And second, that the death penalty leaves no room for non-posthumous exoneration.
The first argument is one of economics, not of morality or of justice. It does not argue that the death penalty is immoral, only that it is expensive. What this argument suggests is that a price tag can be placed on justice. That the most important factor determining a case is not whether justice is served, but how much money it will cost.
The way a society punishes murder is reflective of the value that society places on a human life. The life of a human being is not something that can have a time-based value placed upon it. It is something that has immeasurable value and purpose. The Norwegian mass-murderer, Anders Breivik, a man responsible for the death of seventy-seven people, received a sentence of just twenty-one years for his heinous crimes. A society that decides that the value of an individual’s life amounts to only one-hundred days is one that has no respect for the sanctity of life.
The second argument carries a great deal more weight. It is an undeniable fact that innocent people have, and continue to be, executed for crimes they did not commit. In the United States, prejudice against African Americans, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, and other people often meant that justice was not as blind as it should have been. Furthermore, in an era before DNA evidence, convictions were based upon less reliable physical evidence and eyewitness testimony. And such evidence naturally carried a higher rate of false convictions.
There are two problems with the innocence argument. First, the advent of DNA along with other advances in forensic science has meant that the possibility of executing an innocent person is very low. DNA may not be foolproof, but when combined with eyewitness testimony and additional physical evidence, it makes a guilty verdict all the more concrete.
Second, the innocence argument is not an argument against the death penalty. Rather, it is an argument against executing an innocent person. It only applies when the condemned man is not actually guilty of the crime he has been convicted of. What it does not address is how a person whose guilt is certain beyond all possible reasonable doubt ought to be treated. When an individual’s guilt is that certain the innocence argument no longer carries any weight.
There are two primary arguments for the death penalty. First, that there are crimes so heinous and criminals so depraved that the only appropriate response is the imposition of the death penalty. And second, that the death penalty is an essential aspect of a just and moral justice system.
That there are crimes so heinous, and criminals so depraved, that they deserve the death penalty is self-evident. Carl Panzram (1892 – 1930), a thief, burglar, arsonist, rapist, sodomite, and murderer, told his executioner: “hurt it up, you Hoosier bastard, I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around.” Peter Kürten (1883 – 1931), also known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf, told his executioner that to hear the sound of his own blood gushing from his neck would be “the pleasure to end all pleasures.” Finally, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (1942 – 1994) was convicted of forcibly sodomising, torturing, and strangling thirty-three boys and young men. The question, then, is not whether or not any individual deserves the death penalty, it is whether or not the state should have the power to execute someone.
The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes. It is frequently forgotten, especially by humanitarians, that the key aspect of a criminal penalty is not rehabilitation or deterrence, but punishment.
In other words, what makes a justice system just is that it can convict a person fairly and impose on them a penalty that is commensurate with the nature and severity of the crime that person has committed. What separates the death penalty from extra-judicial murder is that the condemned person has been afforded all the rights and protections of law, including due process, a fair and speedy trial, the right to trial by jury, the presumption of innocence, and so forth, regardless of their race, religion, sexuality, or gender. When a sentence of death is imposed upon a murderer, it is not a case of an individual or group of individuals taking vengeance, but of a legitimate court of justice imposing a penalty in accordance with the law.
What makes the death penalty an integral part of any justice system is not that it constitutes a form of revenge (which it does not) or that it may deter other individuals from committing similar crimes (which it also does not). What makes it just is that constitutes a punishment that fits the crime that has been committed.
This is our weekly theological article.
It is a common complaint of the media that criminals are not given an appropriately severe punishment. An article in The Express, SNP Plot to Scrap Short Jail Sentences Could See Thousands of Criminals Avoid Prison, argues that plans to introduce a “presumption against” sending people to prison will mean that thousands of people convicted of serious crimes will avoid prison. In another article, this time from the Herald Sun, prosecutors in Australia complained that the sentences criminals received were not in line with community standards.
Of course, this represents the common misconception, perpetuated by the media, that the judiciary exists to serve the standards of the community. It does not. Rather, the Justice System exists independently of both public opinion and politics. It bases its decisions on equality before the law and justice for all.
Much of the media’s rhetoric is designed to feed off of our very human desire for revenge based justice. When we read about a rape or child murder in our daily newspapers, often our first reaction is to wish all kinds of cruel and inhumane punishments to be exacted on the criminal guilty of those crimes. Our indignation turns us into barbarians, not civilised people.
In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II warns of how justice can quickly devolve into cruelty and hatred when it is not tempered by mercy:
“It would be difficult not to notice that very often programmes which start from the idea of justice and which ought to assist its fulfilment among individuals, groups and human societies, in practice suffer from distortions. Although they continue to appeal to the idea of justice, nevertheless experience shows that other negative forces have gained the upper hand over justice, such as spite, hatred and even cruelty.”
God tempers His divine justice with mercy. If He were to judge us purely on our thoughts and deeds we would surely be condemned to hell. But in his mercy and love for us, He allowed his only Son to suffer and die on the Cross so we may be freed from the shackles of sin and death.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.” It is precisely this idea, that justice ought to be tempered by mercy, that should drive the way we treat those who have harmed us. As Isabella tells Antonio in Measure for Measure: “it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but tyrannous to use the strength of a giant.” We should never forget that the person who has wronged us is a human being who is as loved by God and as deserving of His forgiveness as we are.
This week for our cultural article we will be examining the classic 1957 courtroom drama, 12 Angry Men.
12 Angry Men is based on a television play inspired by Reginald Rose’s (1920 – 2002) real-life experience as a juror on a manslaughter case in early 1954. It was first aired on CBS’ Studio One in September 1954.
It was inevitable that the television play would result in a film adaptation. With Henry Fonda (1905 – 1982) and Rose acting as producers, and with Sidney Lumet (1924 – 2011) acting as director, the resulting film was filmed in under three weeks and made for a paltry US$340,000 (US$2,961,823.49 in today’s money).
12 Angry Men is a small film in every sense of the word. Twelve jurors are locked in a room on the hottest day of the year to decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. As per the law, the vote must be unanimous. Initially, all but one, Juror Eight (Henry Fonda – the only real star in the movie), vote guilty.
It’s not that Juror Eight thinks the defendant is innocent, but that he isn’t sure. He argues that the boy had an inadequate legal defence and that they, the jury, ought to examine the evidence more closely.
Initially, he has trouble persuading the other jurors to change their vote. But, as they begin to examine the pieces of evidence, more and more of the juror’s find room for reasonable doubt. The film ends with a unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict.
12 Angry Men stands out in an era of sweeping epics and technicolour. It is a small, minimalist, black and white film shot mostly in real time. The mood is created through the creative use of camera angles, camera lenses, and editing.
At the beginning of the film, there are long, unbroken takes filmed from above with wide angled-lenses which give a sense of distance between the characters. They are dominated by the task ahead of them. As the film progresses, the takes become shorter, the camera moves steadily from above to below the action, and the focal length is decreased. This makes the film feel more claustrophobic. No longer at the jurors dominated by the task ahead of them, they are dominated by the force of each other’s personalities. As Lumet wrote:
“I shot the first third of the movie above eye level, shot the second third at eye level, and the last third from below eye level. In that way, toward the end, the ceiling began to appear. Not only were the walls closing in, the ceiling was as well. The sense of increasing claustrophobia did a lot to raise the tension of the last part of the movie.”
12 Angry Men is primarily driven by its characters. Tension arises from body language, dialogue, and personality clashes. The characters represent an almost perfect cross-section of different personality types and temperaments.
12 Angry Men acts as a crash course on the parts of the US Constitution that guarantee a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. It is never stated whether the Defendant is innocent or not but instead asks us to look beyond our biases and arrogance and examine the evidence closer at hand. 12 Angry Men symbolises how well the American legal system can work when people are prepared to look beyond their personal feelings use their integrity for its benefit.