& opinion

A few millennia ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle is supposed to have said, "the law is reason free from passion." Home Secretary David Blunkett has probably never heard this statement before, or if he has, he is doing a wonderful job of concealing it. His fire-breathing Draco has incinerated the sacrosanct lines of democracy by imposing "guidelines" by which judges should sentence murderers. These lines are the borders that divide the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary of a government. And David Blunkett toddles over them as frivolously as an unapologetic footballer breaching the offside rule.

The job of the legislative is to make laws (Parliament), the job of the executive is to carry out the laws (ministries), and the job of the judiciary is to interpret the laws (judges and lawyers). The moment one branch of government starts to take on the role of another, they are in danger of gaining too much power, hence defeating the purpose of separating these powers. This is not Mr Blunkettís first foray across this great divide, but the general public couldnít care less about the extended detention of imaginary asylum- seeking terrorists. Now, however, he has stepped on all the right toes, and the reactions are not at all salutational.

Politicians in parliament should not be able to set jail terms for the simple fact that they are accountable to the population. This appears to be an illogical paradox, but take the case of Moors murderer Myra Hindley. She had served the time recommended by sentencing review panels, but she stayed in jail well past the standard 25 years life term. This is because her crime was so heinous that it captured the morbid imagination of the public, and to release her would be to release the she-devil incarnate. Whether you believe in the rehabilitation and penitence of lifers or not, it is not the job of the public to make this judgement, simply because it is clouded by emotion. A politician can sentence prisoners based on reactions to the public they are accountable to.

Court judges, on the other hand, are not directly responsible to the public. Judges swear, "to do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this Realm without fear or favour, affection or ill will." This is the spirit in which they must be allowed to do their job. Another inconsistency of David Blunkettís "recommendations" is the differing sentences depending on who has been murdered, and in what manner the murder has taken place.

Convicts will get "life meaning life", if the murders involve child sex, and terrorism, a minimum of 30 years for racist murderers and contract killers, with the rest starting at a minimum of 15 years. This might be an area for criminologists, but why should a contract killerís premeditation be considered graver than an ordinary murdererís lack of simple self-control in so called "crimes of passion?" Mr Blunkett seems to caught up in the melodrama of murder, with sentences being Oscars for quality in the theatre of crime scenes, protagonists and antagonists. Where child sex and terrorism are the biopics and disability features in the Home Office Judicial Academy Awards.

The solution is simple - allow judges to judge and use their discretion. If there are problems with the statutes of law, they must be tackled by parliament, and interpretation must be left to judges. Once these lines cross, independence and trust begin to diminish. This must not be allowed to happen to our government.