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Concluding lecture in the Sir Mark Hedley Distinguished Law Lecture Series

Mark Hedley lecture Wednesday 9 December 2015

At his fifth and final lecture of his Distinguished Law Lecture Series, Professor Sir Mark Hedley discussed the sentencing process of the courts and how complex the decision making process is when passing a sentence.

The Sentence of the Court: What is Society’s Purpose? explored the relationship between culpability and consequence and how a shift in the weighting of these when considering what sentence to give to an offender has changed the levels of sentences in recent years.

Mark said “classic penal theory concentrated on the culpability of the offender and that was what the sentence essentially reflected. Now, there is a much greater focus on the consequence of the criminal activity rather than just on what the offender intended.”

“It is my strong impression that the general level of sentencing has increased over the past 40 years – our prison population has doubled whilst the overall level of crime has decreased; whether those phenomena are linked is a matter of intense political debate.”

Mark then went on to discuss why he thinks sentencing levels have increased over the past decade, with reasons including “a society that has become more punitive over the last few years” and “the advent of sentencing guidelines.”

Mark also explored the role of society in sentencing and how judges need to consider the impact a sentence may have upon society. In his concluding statement, Mark said “Trust is essential but it must be deserved, even earned. There is a requirement on judges not only to act with integrity and beyond corruption but with a real understanding of the needs and aspirations of the society they serve.

"I go further. I do not think that the powers we have been discussing can be effectively exercised without an understanding of society and a genuine empathy with humanity even when it goes horribly wrong. The recluse and the cynic have no place on the Bench. A humane understanding of people, a deep sympathy with human fallibility and a desire for a just and ordered society must be the essential features of a judiciary which can deserve, enjoy and retain the trust of the society amongst whom we are authorised to exercise these extensive and remarkable powers.”

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