Life should mean life

Words fascinate me for all sorts of reasons but I am particularly intrigued by the way their meanings can change over a period of time. Take "odious". Whoever would have thought it once meant "exceedingly great"? And I guess few of us are aware that a "marine" was once an empty bottle.

It's the same with the phrase "life sentence". You might think it means "a sentence for life", but you'd be naïve if you thought that. I've always felt it was wrong to get rid of the death penalty but at least those who repealed it did so on the understanding that "a person convicted of murder shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life". But as we know only too well that is not what the courts understand by "a life sentence".

The BBC for example in covering the horrendous murder of little Daniel Pelka has claimed that his mother and partner have been "given life" for what the judge called their "incomprehensible brutality". But as you might expect, on closer examination "life" turns out to be a minimum of thirty years.

In fact, as have discovered to our cost, the European Court of Human Rights has gone even further and declared that full life sentences constitute a violation of a killer's human rights. I would have thought murderers forfeited many of those rights the moment they were convicted of their terrible crime.

People often think that Jesus condemned the ancient maxim of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", but nothing could be further from the truth. For when he referred to this famous principle in "The Sermon on the Mount" he didn't criticise it he simply voiced his disagreement with those who felt it gave them an excuse for revenge. But the "Lex Talionis" was never intended to do that. It belonged, and should still belong, to what happens in courts of law.

Murderers can be forgiven of course. And they can be offered hope too. But why does that have to include the hope of release? It need not, and to be honest, you could argue that the prospect of parole could generate a lot of phoney repentance. It's easy to say "sorry" when you think it will secure you the key to your prison door.

You do not have to be released to be rehabilitated, and you do not have to be discharged from prison to find a fresh purpose in life. When Jesus sets people free He really does set them free wherever they are.