Source: (2004) In Peter Sedgwick, ed., Rethinking sentencing: a contribution to the debate. A report from the Mission and Public Affairs Council. London: Church House Publishing. Pp. 1-17. Downloaded 16 September 2005.

The first account in Western literature of a criminal trial is probably the description of the shield that the god Hephaestus made for the hero Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. The shield shows a scene in which a trial is taking place over the penalty to be paid for a man’s death. The defendant has offered to pay restitution; the victim’s family refuses to accept it. The family’s acceptance will bring an end to the matter – what might today be called ‘closure’. Refusal will lead to a blood feud between the two families that might continue from generation to generation. The issue is referred to a judge or arbitrator, who calls in the elders of the community to form what might now be called a sentencing circle. The scene shows an early recognition that, in a settled society, the effects of a crime cannot be satisfactorily resolved by the parties on their own, others have a stake in the outcome, and a wider public interest is involved. Classical scholars have interpreted the text in different ways, but the issue the elders are being called on to decide is in effect a choice between retributive and reparative justice. (excerpt)


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