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Victims and natural rights

Mackay, Robert
June 4, 2015

Source: (1998) In Support for crime victims in a comparative perspective, ed. Ezzat Fattah and Tony Peters, 127-136. A collection of essays dedicated to the memory of Prof. Frederic McClintock. With a preface by Ezzat Fattah and Tony Peters. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press.

Mackay begins by acknowledging inherent difficulties in the Western conception of victims as holders of rights. Despite problems in taking a natural rights approach to advocacy for victims, he asserts there are advantages in consequentialist terms within the natural law tradition. For example, using historical and current examples, he notes that even when the rights of victims are recognized the state may be unwilling or unable to protect and foster those rights. Against this, some advance the notion of natural rights – rights not established by political systems, but by the very nature or condition of being human. They are not created by law, but should be recognized by law. This view of natural rights gives legitimacy to victims’ claims to have certain needs met, for the meeting of certain fundamental human needs is at the root of the natural law perspective. Mackay therefore contends for a thoroughgoing attention to natural law principles to generate critique of current criminal justice practices and to advance attempts to find an alternative vision.


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