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MURDER TRIALS AT THE ASSIZES To the public mind the outstanding feat- ure of the Glamorgan Summer Assizes, now drawing to a close, has been the result in the cases of alleged murder that were tried. It happened that in all three there was prac- tically no dispute regarding the fact that the persons charged with the capital offence did cause the death of the victim. In the first that was tried the accused was ordered to ,0 detained in a criminal lunatic asylum during the King's pleasure in the second, prisoner was found not guilty and discharg- ed and in the third, a verdict of manslaugh- ter was returned, and the judge sentenced the accueed to six months' imprisonment. Regarded merely in the punitive aspect, the result in each instance might be justified ap to the hilt, for the prisoners must have suf- fered greatly in mind as well as in body during the months they were in prison await- ing trial for offences committed in that con- dition of irresponsibility when the brain is befuddled with drink or insanity, or passion has reached the point-of madness. So that, considered solely in its bearing upon a par- ticular person, the punishment might have been adequate enough. Nevertlieless, thero is no escape from the fact that the influence of the trials upon the mass of people, and especially upon those from whom criminals are chiefly recruited, is altogether undesir- able. The coincidence that three cases should be, brought forward at the same As- sizes having so mueli in common favourable to the defence, is calculated to scatter broad- cast a notion inimical to the idea that a peculiar sanctity attaches to human life, and that he who destroys it incurs penalties of the severest kind. It is in the interest of the community that this idea should con- tinue, since without it there would probably be more frequent murders. One may gather the nature of the impression produced in certain circles by an incident which hap- pened a few days after the last of the three trials. The husband of one of the female witnesses called assaulted ber, and in the hearing of a policeman threatened to take away her life, because, as he remarked, Mitchell had only received six months for killing a woman, and he, the speaker, if he murdered his wife, would not be made to swing for it. The disparity in the sentences passed upon prisoners committing practic- ally the same offence is a feature of British jurisprudence which may be unavoidable, but, all the same, is to be regretted. So much depends upon the judge called upon to try a particular case and the views lie may hold as to the value of punishment as a deterrent of crime. This disparity is apt to disclosed conspicuously in cases which involve the capital offence. It seems a weakness peculiar to our system that there are no legal degrees of murder. So that when a person is indicted for killing any- body, the verdict that. he did so wilfully carries as a matter of course the death pen- alty. The knowledge of this imposes a re- straint upon the average juror, who is pre- disposed to interpret the question of doubt in a spirit highly favourable to the accused. Hence a proportion of the latter escape any sentence whatever; whereas a verdict that could net bring the accused to the gallows would probably be given without hesita- tion. It is true that there is an alternative besides the verdict of "wilful murder" .r acquittal in "manslaughter;" but this is neither so satisfactory, nor the purpose in view so effective if served as the system l.y which murder is graduated into several de- grees. Very few people who have thought at all upon the matter will blame judges for tempering "justice with mercy." The pre- valent feeling now-a-days is, that in the past punishment in the majority of cases was excessively severe; the present ten- dency is all the other way, and people no longer young may yet live to see the day when most of the people brought up for trial will be treated as if their criminal instincts were merely a form of insanity requiring the isolation of the person affected for the protection of the community, but not their punishment for a weakness for which they could not reasonably be held responsible. The application of ecienqe and scientific thought to criminology is wholly changing the attitude of progressive races towards persons violating the law because of inherit- ed mental weakness or morbid impulses. We should not be far out probably if we assign- ed what a section of the public regard as the excessively indulgent treatment of men charged with grave offences to the influence which these new ideas are exercising upon the administrators of criminal law.



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