Leading Article: Justice before mercy

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HOW LONG should an agent of the Holocaust spend in jail for his brutal murders? The trial judge in the case of Anthony Sawoniuk has recommended to the Home Secretary that the purposes of the War Crimes Act would only be achieved if the 78-year-old Sawoniuk were to be kept confined in prison until his death. After all, he has managed to avoid conviction for nearly 60 years; surely, the little time he has left should be dedicated to paying for his crimes. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, draws the opposite conclusion from Sawoniuk's advanced age and the long delay in bringing him to trial. He argues that this is a case for "retribution to be moderated" by fixing a tariff that would allow some hope of eventual freedom.

The arguments are finely balanced, but the need to set an example at a time when war crimes are still being committed in Europe tips the balance to the trial judge's view.