Justice Still No Blinder

03 March 2010

There's been the predictable outrage over the release of Phillip Choon Tee Lim, who served 18 years of a 24 year sentence for the 1991 murder of Dr Victor Chang. The feeling seems to be that, for killing such a "great bloke", Lim ought never be released.

Notwithstanding that this was a heinous crime, murder is always heinous. The average sentence served for murder in NSW is between 12 and 15 years - several years less than Lim served. The argument in the tabloids and on talkback radio runs that Lim should have been kept in jail, circumstance such as good behaviour aside, because of who his victim was. Barring special circumstances such as the murders of children and police officers in the line of duty, should penalties be harsher depending on the identity of the victim? Are some victims more deserving of our, and the justice system's, sympathy (and wrath) than others?

Imagine if death scene pictures of Anita Cobby were shown on TV. There would be outrage whipped to new levels by the talkback and tabloid set, calls for the resignation of everyone in any way involved. It would be an undignified and unnecessary thing. So why does Viviane Ruiz deserve any differently? Photos of Ms Ruiz's decomposing body were shown on a 2005 episode of Crime Investigation Australia and no one, as far as I can tell, complained or cared. If you've never heard of Viviane Ruiz, that's okay, pretty much no one has. Her name is forgotten by even the few people who ever knew it - in fact she was more famous for having no name at all, making headlines at the time of her murder as a Jane Doe who lay unidentified in the morgue for four months after death.

The difference is that Ms Cobby was a former beauty queen, charity fundraiser, and nurse, whilst Ms Ruiz was a prostitute who worked the streets of Kings Cross. Both were brutally murdered - Ms Cobby by a gang of local men, Ms Ruiz by her drug-addicted boyfriend. Ms Ruiz's killer received a lesser sentence than the members of the gang which killed Ms Cobby, which is usual in "domestic" killings. However, is she less deserving of dignity after death due to her profession? Should Phillip Lim have served a longer jail sentence for killing Victor Chang than if he'd shot a drug dealer in otherwise identical circumstances - a failed extortion attempt?

If the answer to these questions is yes, than we can hardly claim justice is blind. As Richard Ackland wryly puts it here (highly recommended reading on this issue), "Political intervention on the basis of 'community' outrage leads to distortions in what should be the administration of an objective parole process.". True, and also true that we should not have a special category of murder for important people - or less outrage when one young female victim is exploited after death and another is deemed too "good" for such treatment.

1 comment:

  1. It could work in my favour, though - I'm training to be a youth worker, married to a nurse, and we're newlyweds. God help anyone who murders me.


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