Social response to killers is more important than the punishment

In The Independent, Freya Berry writes: What does a country do with a remorseless, apparently sane, mass-murderer? Unusually, Anders Breivik, perpetrator of the Utoya massacre, was left alive – something even he finds surprising. Now, safely in custody, famously liberal Norway is struggling to know how to deal with him.

The maximum prison sentence Norway offers is 21 years: roughly a third of a year for every person he killed. An insanity plea would render him liable for locking up indefinitely in a psychiatric unit – but Breivik insists he is sound in mind.

Norway has so far preserved its political ethics, balancing Breivik’s democratic rights with human decency and caution. Yet what is most notable is not the actions of the judiciary, but the response from the people. A poll by Dagbladet newspaper showed 68 per cent of the population remain opposed to the death penalty. The same newspaper has also introduced a “No Breivik” button, which removes him from its news feed. And of the 139 public tickets for Breivik’s hearing, just 50 have been taken up. This behaviour shows a dignified refusal to let his actions and beliefs affect their lives.

This is a country whose Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, regularly cycles to work without security, without a chauffeured car following behind (David Cameron, I’m looking at you). At the memorial service to Breivik’s victims, he said “we will never give up our values. Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity.”

Meanwhile, since the 7/7 bombings, the UK has sustained wars against two countries; tried to impose 42-day detentions without trial; and is now threatening to introduce secret courts.

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