That said, the on-going furore over one of the killers of Jamie Bulger is not the hammer with which to drive these points home. There are rules, and there are exceptions to rules, and it is vital that we do not base rules on exceptions. This case will always be exceptional, due to the age of the perpetrators, who were ten years old at the time of their crime. In the eyes of the law, a ten-year-old boy is not capable of truly understanding the consequences of his action. As someone who was once such an age, I have to agree. If they were even 12, or certainly 16 years old, this would not be the case.
As I mention below, I believe the sentencing of convicted criminals should be done with reference to the following three principles, in descending order:
- Punishment, because you deserve it
- Setting an example
- Protecting the public.
In the case of the Bulger killers, the first principle is of limited application, by virtue of their age at the time of the offence, and their assumed lack of responsibility. Nevertheless, some punishment is necessary, if only to help them understand the enormity of their crime. The second principle can be applied, because the law should be seen to condemn their action, as a warning to others. Which brings us to the last; the thorny issue of protecting the public.
It seems reasonable to me that the Bulger killers were released when they were, provided whatever assessments that can be done had been done and the authorities were reasonably assured that they were not a clear and present danger to the public. They are both now adults. If they are found guilty of crimes now, then the law should take its course, bearing in mind their childhood crime, but not disproportionately.
Finally, there is the question of what the public has a right to know. Avoiding the lofty disdain of some for the common people and the firebrand-wielding of others (with newspapers to sell), I believe the public should be told the facts of what has happened. We are the jury. Any one of us can be called to sit in judgement on criminal cases, and the better informed we are, the better we can fulfill our duty.