The Utoeya Shootings and the Price of Legal Leniency
It is needless to repeat the details of the Utoeya shootings in Oslo. As I write, 93 people, mostly teenagers, have died and as many again are nursing injuries, of varied degrees of severity. The shooter, a far right white terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, age 32, was apparently – and bizarrely – motivated by an anti-Islamic, anti-multiculturalist, anti-left ideology. He is a Christian fundamentalist.
Now, I am not going to delve into Anders Behring Breivik’s motivations, in this post, nor, even, his sanity, which is clearly questionable – no, I wish to address a problem, in Norway, external to Anders Behring Breivik, himself. You see, in one very real sense, Norway’s legal system made Anders Behring Breivik’s act palatable to Mr. Breivik, himself. You see, I understand that the maximum penalty under Norway’s legal system is just 21 years in prison. That stunned me, for it has a very real implication: people like Anders Behring Breivik, driven by extremist ideologies may consider 21 years in prison a fair price to pay, for committing their atrocities. They may say to themselves: “I have killed 93 people, and counting…for which I shall pay 21 years of my life: that is a fair exchange.”
The consequences of committing appalling crimes, in Norway are not severe enough to deter motivated people from committing them. Under the law, as it stands, Anders Behring Breivik, could quite easily have thirty years of life and freedom left to him, after paying the price for his crimes. This strikes me as both wrong, and abhorrent. In a way, it is as much a crime to punish Anders Behring Breivik so lightly, as the crime he is to be punished for.
The first principle of an effective legal system should be that there should be penalties commensurate to all degrees of crime. Clearly, that is not the case in Norway. Twenty-one years in prison is too little a price to pay for quite a few categories of crime, in my view. Norway needs to reform its whole penal system, in response to this crime. At the very least, they should bring in true life prison sentences, which last for the entire life, no matter how long, of the criminal. That, in itself, would deter quite a few potential criminals, from committing the crimes that carry such a sentence. Other countries have the death penalty - but, in some ways, life in prison can be a lot worse than death, particularly if the prisoner is consistently ill treated by the other prisoners – as Anders Behring Breivik is likely to be.
Any country which is soft on crime – as Norway is seemingly – can expect to learn some pretty hard lessons.
It is possible that 93 Norwegians would be alive today, if Norway had full life prison sentences for murder, as an option. It is clear that Anders Behring Breivik considers 21 years a price worth paying, to further his “vision”, of the future of Norway. It is up to legal systems everywhere, to institute penalties that as few people as possible, would ever consider worth paying for their crimes. Maximal crimes, deserve maximal punishments – the more severe the punishment, the less likely the crime will occur (for all but the irrational).
Then again, if Anders Behring Breivik is not placed in solitary confinement, for the duration of his sentence, it is very likely that another prisoner will kill him, instituting an effective death penalty, that Norway does not have. Perhaps Anders Behring Breivik didn’t consider that. Or perhaps, like the Islamic fundamentalists he oddly resembles, in his deeds, if not in his beliefs, he doesn’t really care. Either way, the fact remains that Norway’s legal system seems rather naïve as to the motivations of men. Can they not understand that the punishment must be great enough to deter the crime?
Anders Behring Breivik was not deterred. It is now up to legal systems everywhere, to ensure that they have a sufficiently deterrent punishment on their statute books, so as to dissuade as many Anders Behring Breivik’s as possible, from becoming known to us, by their atrocious deeds.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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