Releasing terrorists is the price we must pay

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Following a silence of several years our resident millennial, wee Tom, has hit his stride with two-posts-in-a-month and here he asks if the automatic release of convicted terrorists, albeit under licence and with strict controls on freedoms and behaviours, is in danger of setting a worrying precedent. Vile individuals with hugely distorted perspective these people surely are, but altering the rule of law after justice has been passed and served raises a host of charged issues that ultimately require us to answer what kind of society we really want to be.

The core of any functioning justice system can surely be boiled down to one word: fairness. Moving the goalposts mid-game seems, in my mind, to seriously undermine this. Once we start retrospectively applying and changing the law then it risks undermining the entire system. As a human construct, the inherent weakness of ‘the law’ is that it only exists if we all choose to abide by it. We understand there will be consequences for our actions but the trade-off is the recognition that the majority of lives benefit — our houses, savings, pensions, education, healthcare are all enshrined in the law and the legitimacy we grant it. Fairness, and therefore, continuity are crucial to maintaining the system. By tweaking the law and its prior application, we risk setting an incredibly dangerous precedent in a system that relies on a certain level of inflexibility for its very existence.

Another point for concern is the subjective nature of potential alterations. ‘Terrorism’ has become associated with some of the worst atrocities of our times. Committing acts of violence towards innocent (in our eyes), members of the public, often in the name of a belief or set of ideals was once exulted and often known by such heroic terms as ‘The Crusades’, are now rightly abhorred. However, if we are altering the law for terrorists then surely we must do the same for all murderers? After all isn’t murder just terrorism without the distorted religious backdrop — does that absolve them in the eyes of society? When a reported 95 recipients of non-terror related life sentences went on to reoffend over a ten-year period, it seems tough to draw that particular, arbitrary distinction.

Whilst, at times utilitarian law-making is necessary, it must be conducted with utmost care & thought for the future. Yes, British society would be temporarily safer if terrorists had their sentences lengthened after serving time, but equally if statistics and majority votes are the only preconditions required then would the fact that Britain’s black population of 3% commit 10% of recorded crimes, make automatic police monitoring acceptable in order to safeguard the majority of the population? OK you’re right — ridiculous, so why not make it just those living in the most deprived areas as this further increases the statistical risk of offending?

Of course, I’m being provocative and using a callous metaphor, nonetheless the main argument stands: broad changes to the law are dangerous; who calls the shots; who decides who should lose their freedom, when members of society are beyond saving and in whose interests the changes are made? These are fraught questions we should rightly baulk at and until a better solution is found, perhaps rigidity is the only answer.

At the core of a developed nation’s penal system, is the knowledge that, largely, offenders have to be released at some point. As a society, we have decided that almost everyone deserves the chance to rehabilitate and reform. The answer, therefore, does not lie in delaying the inevitable with longer sentences, but funding and driving that reform agenda. We must invest our hope in those greatly troubled individuals, that this is not all they can be. It is this hope in humanity — that the best is yet to come and no problem is insurmountable, which has driven societal evolution for millennia.

The sad fact is that people will always commit crimes and continue to re-offend. As tragic and seemingly unreasonable as that is, it is arguably the price we pay for our continued optimism in the entirely fallible creatures around us. For when we lose hope, we lose trust swiftly followed by tolerance. Without these three vital ingredients, a peaceful society’s days are surely numbered. It is thus the terrible burden we must bear to rise above the madding crowd.