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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

But for the Grace of God

Blonde Justice offers a fairly lengthy reply to my reaction to the "but for the Grace of God" argument.

I suppose I should explain my reaction a little further, and to me it mostly comes down to a sense of personal responsibility. With a few exceptions I think we must all be responsible for our actions. One of my favourite rants, albeit not done on this blog yet, is how the modern world contrives to abdicate personal responsibility. Of course, those with mental problems might really be unaware of their actions, and in such cases the "there but for the Grace of God" does have resonance, but because of the mental problem rather than for any crime committed as a consequence. Also those under great emotional stress will not necessarily be aware of their actions, though in general I feel such people should nonetheless be accountable.

I am reminded of one of Ken Lammers frequent complaints, about those clients caught driving on a suspended license because it is their only way to get to work. In my mind its plain that there is a reason for the license being suspended in the first place, be it drink driving or speeding and so on. However, clearly there is an issue when the only way for someone to maintain their livelihood is to break the law. Clearly these people need defending, if only because of the blind nature of the suspension (wrecking someone's livelihood seems to me to be wildly disproportionate to the offence, and last I checked one basis of the common law was the proportional nature of the penalty - but I realise I am probably being incredibly naive). But the "but for the Grace of God" argument rings hollow because of the initial offence.

In the case of "overbroad or misapplied laws" then I think we enter a slightly different realm, one where the defence lawyer is a most necessary balance on the state.

I suppose I should re-emphasise that, although I do have great difficulty with the "but for the Grace of God" argument for why defending the (probably) guilty is important, of the ones I have read it is really the only one I have reacted negatively to. Plenty of the other positions resonate positively. I should also repeat my reaction to "but for the Grace of God" is at least partly gut-based, and so perhaps not entirely logical. But there you go. Who expects feelings to be logical?

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