Qualities of Mercy deals with the history of mercy, the
remittance of punishments in the criminal law. The writers probe the
discretionary use of power and inquire how it has been exercised to
spare convicted criminals from the full might of the law. Drawing on
the history of England, Canada, and Australia in periods when both
capital and corporal punishment were still practised, they show that
contrary to common assumptions the past was not a time of unmitigated
terror and they ask what inspired restraint in punishment. They
conclude that the ability to decide who lived and died -- through the
exercise or denial of mercy -- reinforced the power structure.
The essays are an important contribution to current public policy
debates. If today's move towards unyielding and harsher punishment
proceeds, including campaigns to reinstate capital punishment, mercy
alone will fail to neutralize the inequities of criminal justice. Only
profound cultural shifts and transitions of sensibility have the force
to stem the tide of unprecedented punitiveness.
Carolyn Strange teaches at the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Toronto's Girl 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: The Decline of Physical Punishment in London, 1760-1840 / Greg T. Smith 2. In Place of Death: Transportation, Penal Practices, and the English State, 1770-1830 / Simon Devereaux 3. `Harshness and Forbearance': The Politics of Pardons and the Upper Canada Rebellion / Barry Wright 4. Savage Mercy: Native Culture and the Modification of Capital Punishment in Nineteenth-Century British Columbia / Tina Loo 5. Discretionary Justice: Political Culture and the Death Penalty in New South Wales and Ontario, 1890-1920 / Carolyn Strange Punishment in Late-Twentieth-Century Canada: An Afterword / Anthony N. Doob