The Law of Just Revenge

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 15, 2010

HangingAnand Ralogan is one of the leading lawyers of public law in T&T. There is no doubt that the prime minister selected him to be her attorney general because of his familiarity with the courts and how government agencies function. The attention he has paid to breaches in citizens’ rights and his advocacy for those against whom the state has discriminated have been admirable. All things considered, he is a good choice for the office.

But there is a down side to all of this. Anand is a relatively young man holding an office of public trust for the first time. He is impetuous, exuberant and, as my mother used to say, he “is just beginning to feel his oats.” In his brief stint in office he has taken on the Integrity Commission, clashed with the Police Commissioner and appears intolerant of those who express opinions that are different from his. His attitude suggests that his opinions should prevail at all times.

In spite of his effectiveness in public law I disagree with his advocacy of retribution as a principle of justice and the use of the death penalty as a superior way to achieve social justice. He is reported to have said: “Rest assured the death penalty is coming! If you do the crime you wouldn’t just pay the time, we will pop your necks! The time for retribution has come and the fight against crime has to be taken at a higher level” (Express, July 10).

Although jurisdictions such as the United States and T&T see retribution as a legitimate aspect of criminal punishment (it is included it their constitutions) one must still ask whether the state should exact revenge against its citizens (an Old Testament concept) and whether the death penalty takes the fight against crime to a higher level, a practice whose efficacy is still being challenged?

The principle of retribution as an integral part of administering justice is not new to T&T. As early as 1854, Michel Maxwell Philip, one of our most eminent legal minds, examined the lex talionis or the law of just revenge in his novel, Emmanuel Appadocca, and arrived at a definite conclusion. Society has an obligation to take the law into its own hand and punish the evil doer while he lives on earth rather than postpone such a judgment until he arrives in the other world.

Philip was born in 1829 and died in 1888. Schooled in Scotland and trained at Middle Temple, England, Philip returned to Trinidad in 1854 after he was called to the bar. From 1871 to 1888 he was the solicitor general of the island and acted as attorney general six times between 1873 and 1888. It was a major achievement for a black man who was born during slavery and practiced his craft during colonialism. As the acting attorney general the death penalty was the rule of the day.

Some scholars have interpreted the lex talionis as the law of just revenge or the law of compensation and retaliation. It has its foundation in the following Hebraic principle: “When one man injures and disfigures his fellow country-man, it shall be done to him as he has done: facture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury and disfigurement that he has inflicted upon another shall in turn be inflicted upon him” (Leviticus 25: 17-22). Philip argued that the lex talionis was stolen from the Egyptians and agreed with the concept of just revenge.

However, one is forced to ask whether the state has a right to act in a revengeful manner upon its citizens and inflict the ultimate penalty of taking their lives. In 1976 when the United States reinstated the death penalty after a ten-year suspension, Justice Potter of the US Supreme Court, reasoned that “capital punishment is an expression of society’s moral outrage at particularly offensive conduct” and that “the instinct for retribution is part of the nature of man,” a necessary condition for the promotion of stability in a society governed by laws.

The reinstatement of capital punishment did not make America any more law-abiding than European countries which, for the most part, banned the death penalty. Nor, are Europeans as violent as Americans. Interestingly enough, it has been shown that in the U.S. the desire for capital punishment has been driven by “nationalism, religiousness and racial tolerance.” In the US there are more black men on death row than white men although African Americans consist of only eleven percent of the population.

No one knows whether the death penalty decreases or increases the murder rate or helps to restore social balance. However, I am sure that the state should not be in the business of committing legal murder and inflicting extreme pain and suffering on its citizens. Gandhi reminded us that an eye for an eye eventually leaves the whole society blind and creates a society where the laws of the Old Testament take precedence over the message of love that the New Testament embodies.

Needless to say, such a policy only takes us back to the savage days of slavery and indentureship when the lives of enslaved Africans and indentured Indians did not mean much. This makes it astonishing to hear Subhas Panday, Minister in the Ministry of National Security, say that “the time has come when society must demand its pound of flesh” and the state must reintroduce the cat-o-nine tale, the most barbarous form of punishment that was inflected upon enslaved Africans during and after the slave period.

While the attorney general, the minister in National Security and a majority of our citizens may favor popping the criminal’s necks and beating dem with de cat, I take my stand with Supreme Justice Thurgood Marshall, a towering figures in the fight for the human rights of oppressed peoples, who argued in 1972 that an important decision such as hanging “must not originate in a desire for vengeance because revenge, which he equated with retribution, is an outdated principle of justice” (J. Finckenauer, “Public Support for the Death Penalty”).

It is difficult to see how the death penalty raises the fight against crime to a higher level. The People’s Partnership certainly has a chance to do things better and take our society to higher heights. It all depends on the choice that it makes.

18 Responses to “The Law of Just Revenge”


  • Are we not supposed to uphold the law? Isn’t the death penalty part of our law? Should we not enforce this law because of the opinions of a few or because we we do not enforce the law in other cases eg. driving thru’ red traffic lights?

  • In countries where crime is relatively low, it is shown that it is primarily so because ordinary citizens remain and insist on being law-abiding, and for at least two reasons.

    One is that the laws are generally seen as being just and reasonable.

    The second is that those institutions primarily charged with interpreting, upholding, and applying the law, for example the judiciary, policing et al, are held in high regard, and are especially so when those who carry status in these institutions and in the society at large, personify the applying of the law without fear or favour to rank or to ally.

    No social barometer so measures the concomitant increase, or decrease in crime as does the attitude of ordinary, law-abiding members of a society to the laws. In fact, at one time and for the most part, even the criminals were ordinary, law-abiding members.

  • The solution to crime and criminality is an effective police force and a greater solve ratio for crime. Today, if the police is called they will not come, that is not the way to run a country, that is the way to ruin a country. The problems plaguing the police is (1) Corruption, (2) Too wide a distance to cover (3) Lack of resources to fight crime.
    I agree with the gun laws to ensure that criminals are given a 20 year jail term, it is either that or death. Anyone owning an illegal hand gun has set the tone for an end to their existence.

    Thankfully the current Minister of National Security is increasing patrols. That is coming at a cost and a long term solution needs to be found. However, if a criminal knows he can get caught in the commission of a crime he will think twice, further if he knows the sentence is such he think again.

    As for hanging, I have said it should be done only in extreme cases. Hanging or lethal injection should NOT be viewed as a deterent but the natural course of justice. What do you with someone who kills a pregnant woman, or murders a child??? Even Jesus said that if you offend one of these little ones it is better a millstone be hanged around your neck and you be cast into sea.

    I think also to the murder laws need to be change. Do you know two people could be hanged for one murder. This is ridiculous and these laws need to be changed. Murder 1st degree, 2nd degree and 3rd degree. Then manslaughter.

  • “His attitude suggests that his opinions should prevail at all times”.
    Is that not a character flaw of most T&T officials in positions of power?

  • “countries where crime is relatively low, it is shown that it is primarily so because ordinary citizens remain and insist on being law-abiding,”
    “The solution to crime and criminality is an effective police force,gun laws to ensure that criminals are given a 20 year jail term,it is either that or death…..Thankfully the current Minister of National Security is increasing patrols.”
    Is it time we demand that no one with a lofty education below grade school , should not be allowed to drive on this Information Highway ,so that folks like Vic and Khem are eliminated. Sorry Khem, forgot you were in University.
    Seriously, my friend were you or any unfortunate relative in St James every found your self at the receiving end of a unpolished booths of an enraged , half drunk ,weed smoking Tethron fellow my friend , who along with buddies were just snubbed by a few pretty Smokey and Bounty enticing chicks?
    Even as far back as 1970 no Brigadier , was able to control those guys ,while in charge , but today I admire your optimism that our present regime can do the impossible, and most importantly end crimes, by simply micromanaging our Police, making draconian laws , and snatching pie in the sky technocratic mechanisms from abroad.
    Some wiser ones would say , folks ,get to the heart of the problem by addressing long neglected social maladies that prevails amongst the poor, while taking an equally enthusiastic , and firm hand on white color , elitist crooks and bandits-like political party financiers,. ehh guys? I wonder if esteem Senator , global criminologist , and now University Head , Dr Deosaran , would say about that.

    • “but today I admire your optimism that our present regime can do the impossible, and most importantly end crimes, by simply micromanaging our Police, making draconian laws , and snatching pie in the sky technocratic mechanisms from abroad”.- Neal.

      The process of training and recruiting the right fit for the police service should be the priority of the government. In developed nation an officer is tested for drug use, he have to declare any relatives in the drug trade, further the dectives go and ask questions about that officer. He is given a psychological test, aptitude test, physical test and is require to stay physically fit if he wants to keep his job.
      In T&T the police came to a family in Princess Town who had just been robbed and traumatised by bandits. The police came drunk and disorderly. When the people looked at them, their response “whey you lookin at”. In developed nation a simple complaints form would result in that police being fired. Micro managing the police is not what I am advocating, simply managing and addressing complaints is good place to start.
      Draconian laws are necessary when crime has reach a level that requires it.

  • let us start the hangings please!!!what are they waiting for?hang them high.

  • The death penalty has never been instituted in a fair manner in any society where blacks are governed by a foreign ethncity, and it won’t be in T&T. The salivation to break necks by the new Atorney General has more to do with who he apprehends stringing up, than any affinity with justice.

    Again, it is not by coincidence that the Attorney General and many of his sycophants share commonality with the right wing of America and apartheid South Africa as regards the death penalty. The fact that in all three theaters the circumstances is one where people of African descent are at the receiving end of decisions and implementations by others is symbolic of a history and experience that its impossible to ignore. The language being used by the attorney general demonstrates that no amount of sophisticated education can eradicate certain base traits from an individual’s psyche.

    • “The death penalty has never been instituted in a fair manner in any society where blacks are governed by a foreign ethncity, and it won’t be in T&T.”
      Ruel Daniels has exceeded all civil expectations….to suggest that T&T is governed by a “foreign ethnicity” is not only racist but also plain dumb.This man is the Black version of the KKK. I suggest that he return to T&T, put on black robes and begin to plant burning crosses on the lawns of Indians. His frequent ranting and illogical , racist vomiting on this website against Indians should be considered hate propaganda and legally actionable.Please Mr.Daniels, if you have nothing uplifting or positive to say, crawl back into your hole and mingle with the other insects.

  • Trinidad Murder Toll Now Stands At 288- Who Cares, Sit Back and Grab a Drink. Solo Or Pepsi, Rum or coke, Some Calypsonian would compose a Song with The Year End Total.
    If It Does Not Affect You ; Who Cares, Life Continues- A beach Lime or A River Lime, This Ain’t stopping we. Death Penalty-Who Cares, once the Big Countries out-lawing it- Trini is to small to Implement it.
    We have a Law, but you know as we know we can’t use it, Privy Council if you please. Send in The US and let them take them out, we have to live and let’s live. Yeepee!!! we’re Free !!!!

  • What is wrong with punishment for crime?There must be some consequence for bad actions.There was a time when parents used to punish or even try to discipline their children when they misbehave.We are now reaping the benefits of ignoring the problem of violence in our schools where teachers are expected to raise children when some parents fail to do their duties.Criminals operate with impunity without a slight sense of remorse,this level of insanity must be curbed.We must remove the the idea that you can kill someone and get away Scott free,when you commit a crime you must be punished.Let us start the hanging of all prisoners on death row immediately,all prisoners in prison for theft,rape and murder should receive regular floggings with the cat o nine,lets see how fast the crime rate will fall.

  • Who is afraid of Breakneck!!! You see this Place is so confused with what they are reading and not understanding. People in High Echelons of Society cannot relate to this Menace in Society, the Number one Reason at times : This Does not Affect Them.
    Have these Individuals really been Victimized? When someone Gets Rape,Murdered, Violently abuse and Trespassed upon. To many of Us this Never Happened With someone That we Knew, So we Don’t know the Ordeal and Pain and Anguish these Human Beings have to go Through.
    These unwanted Pregnancies most of the Time is Running around Thinking That They are Above the Law. When the Law catches up with them, they Look for the same Law to look for some Loophole to Spare them.
    Is Time Government Deal with this Ruthless Crime Menace in this Society- The People Have Elected You To Serve, And serve You Must. You must provide the Protection of Citizens, the very one’s that have placed you in Power.
    When you become Government in Elected Positions, You Begin to Have security Right around The Clock. Small People Don’t Have This Privilege. But You Need To Guarantee this Privilege Most Of The Time for them.
    This Is What should be a Free and Just Society, A place Where anyone can Move around without looking Over Their Shoulders To see If They would Not=Be the Next victim of This Runaway Nuisance Crime Situation The Whole Country is Plagued with.
    If You Feeling Sorry to Break some necks, Build some underground Prisons or Acquire some Remote Island some where and Get Rid of These Elements of this society. Put Them Away for Good If They cannot, And will not Choose to live as Hard working People who is Sweating and Breaking Their backs To keep The System flowing.
    Hang Them Till their Neck Break- Put Back some restrain and Respect in this Society. Those Who are Appealing For Human Rights For These Criminals are not even Living in This Society. Invite them to walk the streets Of Trinidad and Tobago after Hours and They would Feel what is The Human Rights in This Place.
    Bring in the Top Guns from Privy Council and Amnesty International To Walk the Streets of Port Of Spain Without Security and protection. Let them Walk the Bus Route From Port-Of -Spain From City Gate To Morvant- Yes! put This As The Acid Test for These Protectors of Evildoers. Come Walk in the Bus Route and The Main Road Of T&T. Open the Door and welcome them, provide the airfare and Shipping Charges for them, Welcome them Here……

  • http://guardian.co.tt/news/politics/2010/07/20/verna-i-will-walk-if-hangings-resume

    What’s your take on revenge Sam, especially when manifested via the State ? The great Blacksungod in all his earthly, and heavenly holiness, claimed that” …..vengeance is mine; I will repay”.
    Poor Verna , she like many who looks like her ,has fulfilled her purpose for the power brokers , and now the conniving , political bastards, are setting her up for the kill-no pun intended- and feels she should slitter away like a common Toco Zandolee. It would seem however as if dog was unable to eat the fine woman’s conscience , and she is prepared to take a principled stance. Good for her I say, and by extension the nation as a whole.
    What a sad state of affairs, as the poor who cannot have auntie dig under the mattress and pull out $TT300,000 ,saved up initially for such a rainy day, or have dad put up the 700 acres of land he inherited ,as collateral for a loan to get Israel Khan, Setahal,our dear sister Madame Pamela Elder ,or my one time schoolmate, Gilbert Peterson, for a high end defense , then ‘dog better than you,’ as the wisest lady that every lived ,would affectionately say to me ,some moons ago.

    • From a Biblical Perspective: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. for there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” Romans 13:1
      ” for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.
      For he is the minister of God to thee for good. but if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Romans 13:3,4
      ” Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” 1 Peter 2:13,14.
      The Scriptures have set up a standard whereby we have to abide as a society, Without a moral absolute and Standard society will always fall apart.
      Thou shalt not KILL : this application were establish for man towards his fellow men. When we look at the Ten Commandments: The dual application that we see here is as follows: The First Four of these Commandments shows our relationship Towards God, The other Six is our Relations towards our Fellowmen.
      If the Laws of the Land keeps changing, with redress and Grievances, this does not Prove that God’s Law of the Ten Commandments Changes. This is our Guarantee of a Universal Constitution that were established by God, For the preservation of Society on a whole.
      This is the Moral absolute that Suppose to be around with Nations to Preserve and maintain order. The Death Penalty is not Revenge, This makes it look like Revenge, but the crux of the matter is: God Permitted Government to be establish to maintain Society.
      Show me a Nation in Existence that do not have Laws To protect itself. If we have no Laws Protecting us, we would dissolve into Anarchy. Republicanism, Democracy, Communism all show a Standard by which order have to be maintained.
      History keeps repeating itself as a great lesson book, this is one of the premise that the world have been confronted with: The Death Penalty, ” Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Genesis 9:6.
      The Problem is Justice, Discernment, and the Spiritual Minded are no where anymore- A lowering of these standards creates the conflict of should we or should we not carry out the Death Penalty. If these standards were maintained by Judges, Lawyers, Jurist- With a proper Economic order that does not oppress people into class systems as the Rich/VS-The Poor, then we can acknowledge proper Order in Society.!!!!!

  • Politics is the art of compromise.Verna should not play with the big boys if she has no marbles.Although I agree with her stance on capital punishment, I believe that she should not opt out but stand up and fight for her convictions. That’s what a real political soldier would do.If she can so easily slither away, then she was not committed to begin with and this puts her in the category of so many opportunitists in politics, as they practise the politics of convenience…..to quote Neal, “gimme, gimme”.

  • To bolster you point , I am reminded as well ,of a nationally famous quote by our former Opposition leader, and one time PM, Mr. Panday , where he stated ,that “Politics has a morality all of it’s own.”
    I think that you are making a very valid commentary here T-Man. Vena should have stayed out of the kitchen ,if afraid of the heat that could emanate from state murder ,as she certainly would have known what policy directions ,her government would be pursuing after May 25th 2010.
    In addition , it is the people of our country , who feels disgusted by runaway crimes, that are fueling the thirst for blood , and revenge. As such ,the government based on the overwhelming mandate received ,seems within it’s right to hang from ‘Captain to Crook,’if they fall asunder of the law.
    By shifting her role as social activist ,to become a hardcore politician, Verna perhaps naively thought she would be able to have a different , more forceful,and lasting impact on crimes ,and social justice in her country.
    The choice now for her is clear , compromise on principles, en route to being a good PP soldier, or risk accusations of being a recalcitrant spoiler , as well as non team player, or worst yet ,soft on crime by her critics? Here is a novel idea,where all might come out smelling like a rose. It’s called ‘following the middle way.’
    They can try and boost our employment, via Trini/ Yankee style ‘Prison Industrial Complex’ creation, and re institute populist Capital punishment , while simultaneously,pushing an aggressive social, anti poverty , development agenda, that might in time , chip away on some of the causes of crimes , as viewed by some.
    Nation building is never easy.

  • It appears that having a doctorate, is a licence to talk El Toro Poo Poo. The more educated we become, the more we tend to Edge God Out [EGO], and the more we develop our egos, the more enveloped in darkness and stupidity, we become.

    Dr Cudjoe, has not stated how we should treat career minded criminals, other than we should not practice the law of retribution. Another joker by the name of Verna St Rose-Greaves, thinks that we should be as kind to criminals as we possibly can be, and that would somehow, help them to seek a new way forward.

    I believe that the law of retribution, permanently takes care of the problem, of cold blooded murderers in our midst. The hangings must resume now, and we should be hanging ten people, on average per day.

    Do Ma’at and live.

    Asé!!

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