New Draft Paper: Government Mercy

I’ve been working on a series of papers about mercy. My latest is a discussion of when the government acts mercifully, if indeed it ever does.

Here’s the abstract:

A pardon is an act of mercy according to the law, but is a pardon mercy in an ordinary or genuine sense? What distinguishes a pardon from a lenient judicial sentence, which is not mercy by the law’s lights? These are questions about what mercy as it is understood in law has to do with mercy as it is understood outside of law, and about who in government acts mercifully and when, if indeed anyone in government ever does. Here I propose a general analysis of mercy, then bring that analysis to bear on government action. Three features of my analysis are noteworthy. First, almost all existing analyses say that mercy is unconstrained in a normative sense, but I argue that mercy is unconstrained in the way that arbitrary power is unconstrained. Second, although it’s often assumed that mercy must be motivated by compassion, I show that mercy only requires acting with the intention to benefit the recipient. Third, my analysis says that mercy requires the giver of mercy to overcome a motivation to treat the recipient harshly. Given this analysis, few government acts are merciful, but pardon is an institutional approximation or analog of mercy.

Read the full paper here.

The paper is a draft, and comments and suggestions, no matter how small, are very welcome!

Entrenching and Undercutting

Nick Barber has an article titled ‘Why Entrench?’ coming out in the International Journal of Constitutional Law (available on SSRN). Among other things, the article is about the kinds of entrenchment there are, the reasons there are for entrenchment, and how the two match up. I really like the piece: it’s clear and persuasive, with some fresh examples and a useful typology. Here I want to explore a point that Barber hints at, but doesn’t get into. Continue reading

Why Codify?

Britain is always tinkering with its constitution. Sometimes it talks about a more radical change: constitutional codification. Over the past few years, talk of constitutional codification has grown a little more serious. High-profile committees, centres, and scholars have spent a lot of time and energy discussing the issue. Sophisticated reports have been produced (see here and here). Articles have been written.

But I still wonder: what difference would codifying the constitution actually make? Continue reading

Mercy and Judicial Review in the Commonwealth

Judges in Commonwealth jurisdictions are increasingly willing to review the executive’s decisions to grant or refuse mercy (ie, decisions to grant or refuse a request for a pardon or remission of a sentence for a criminal offence). Here I want to sketch the developments and mention a few interesting differences and commonalities. I’ll focus on the Caribbean States and India, where most of the action has been.

Continue reading