Qualities of Mercy deals with the history of mercy, theremittance of punishments in the criminal law. The writers probe thediscretionary use of power and inquire how it has been exercised tospare convicted criminals from the full might of the law. Drawing onthe history of England, Canada, and Australia in periods when bothcapital and corporal punishment were still practised, they show thatcontrary to common assumptions the past was not a time of unmitigatedterror and they ask what inspired restraint in punishment. Theyconclude that the ability to decide who lived and died -- through theexercise or denial of mercy -- reinforced the power structure.
The essays are an important contribution to current public policydebates. If today's move towards unyielding and harsher punishmentproceeds, including campaigns to reinstate capital punishment, mercyalone will fail to neutralize the inequities of criminal justice. Onlyprofound cultural shifts and transitions of sensibility have the forceto stem the tide of unprecedented punitiveness.
Carolyn Strange teaches at the Centre of Criminologyat the University of Toronto. She is the author of Toronto'sGirl Problem: The Perils and Pleasures of the City, 1880-1930.
Foreword / Douglas Hay Acknowledgments Introduction / Carolyn Strange 1. Civilized People Don't Want to See That Sort of Thing: TheDecline of Physical Punishment in London, 1760-1840 / Greg T.Smith 2. In Place of Death: Transportation, Penal Practices, and theEnglish State, 1770-1830 / Simon Devereaux 3. `Harshness and Forbearance': The Politics of Pardons and theUpper Canada Rebellion / Barry Wright 4. Savage Mercy: Native Culture and the Modification of CapitalPunishment in Nineteenth-Century British Columbia / TinaLoo 5. Discretionary Justice: Political Culture and the Death Penalty inNew South Wales and Ontario, 1890-1920 / Carolyn Strange Punishment in Late-Twentieth-Century Canada: An Afterword /Anthony N. Doob