Crime and Punishment

R.S. Revision cards for the Edexcel section on Capital Punishment

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The nature of law and justice

Laws are the rules that govern human relationships and society as a whole. Under the law, we take responsibility for the way we choose to behave. Justice is about enforcing the laws in a way that is fair and equal to everyone, making sure that good acts are rewarded and bad acts punished. A crime is an action that is against the law and liable to punishment. 

Laws in the UK are made by Parliament and enforced through the police and he courts to enable people to live together in freedom, safety and order. 

Justice comes from the courts. When someone is accused of a crime, the courts must ensure that the law is applied properly and fairly. Without justice, the law could not operate with authority because people would believe it was unfair. 

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Justice, law and sin

There are many forms of moral wrongdoing which may or may not be, against the law. A sin is an act that goes against the will of God. Some sins, such as murder, are also crimes. but other sins, such as adultery, are not against the law. In the same way, sometimes a crime is not a sin. For example, breaking the speed limit in order to get a sick person to hospital is a crime but not, necessarily, a sin. 

However, there can be serious problems if a government makes a law which the people think is wrong or unjust. For example, in the early 1990s, the UK government issued a law requiting people to pay a community charge called the poll tax. Many people thought that the law was unfair and there was a great deal or protesting and rioting. Eventually, the government withdrew the law. 

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Theories of Punishment

If laws are going to work, people who break the law have to be punished in some way. In the UK, a person is presumed to be innocent until they are proven guilty in court. For a minor offence, a person may be fined or sentenced to do community service work, while more serious offences carry a prison sentence. The most severe sentence in the UK is life imprisonment. 

Arguments for the theories of punishment

Punishment is not just concerned with making sure that everyone obeys the law. There are several theories about the purpose or aims of punishment:


To deter someone means to prevent or discourage them from doing something that is against the law. The idea is that:

1. The person who is punished may be put off doing that action again

2. Someone who may have thought about doing that action is put off by seeing the punishment that the other person received. 

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Arguments against theories of punishment

All of these theories have arguments against them and debates about them too:

Deterrence doesn't work. In the UK, prisons are crammed full to bursting point and nearly half of all prisoners commit crime again after they are released. If deterrence did work, this would suggest that those countries that have very severe punishments would have low levels of crime, which is not the case. 

In many cases retribution doesn't work either. Victims of crime often feel that the criminal has not been punished enough, so they do not feel a sense of justice having been done. 

Some people would argue that, in very serious crimes such as murder, retribution can never be reached anyway. The family of the victim will still be grieving their loss, no matter how harshly the murderer is punished for it.

Some people argue that reform goes against the idea of punishing people, which is what they punishment should be about. They would argue that teaching and educating criminals is not punishing them. 

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Islam attitudes towards war

Most religions offer teaching on war and conflict. And over time religion has been at the heart of conflict between nations.

Muslim attitudes to war and peace are based on the teachings of the Qur’an (the Divine Book revealed to the Prophet Muhammad). There are two ideas in Muslim teaching that relate to war – Jihad (to struggle in the way of Allah) and Harb al-Muqadis (Holy War).

Islam is a religion of peace in which fighting and war are seen only as a last resorts:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.

Surah 49:13

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paraphrases the textbook but is useful for a summary of the key sections :)

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