Punishment And The Criminal Justice System

1776 Words8 Pages
If we accept that punishment is justified in certain circumstances, then, ideally, it should only be incurred by individuals whose actions warrant punishment. I think, at least amongst civilised society, this opinion cannot be disputed. The difficult question is not whether punishment should be deserved, but when punishment should be deserved. The quotation above suggests that in order to be worthy of punishment, the defendant must have consciously chosen to have committed the wrong of which he or she stands accused. However, as the UK criminal justice system demonstrates, strict compliance with this principle is often impractical. This essay will investigate the legislation that seems to challenge the ‘conscious choice’ principle, before considering whether or not this legislation compromises the value of the criminal justice system.

Before we contemplate the types of behaviour that deserve punishment, it is essential that we understand why ‘deserved punishment’ is a fundamental premise of the criminal justice system. In order to do this, we will need to consider the different justifications for punishment. As Wilson considers, theories of punishment have historically ‘fallen into one of two categories’; they can be identified as either a retributive theory or a utilitarian (consequentialist) theory.[1] Retributive theories suggest that punishment can only be justified if the punishment itself has some inherent moral value; it cannot be ‘made right’ by its positive
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