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Why should suffragettes who broke the law be pardoned?

8 February 2018

12:25 PM

8 February 2018

12:25 PM

I am proud of my great-aunt Kathleen Brown, who once hijacked a horse-drawn fire-engine in the suffragette cause and charged it down Tottenham Court Road clanging its bell. She did time in Holloway. She was also sent to prison in Newcastle for breaking a window in Pink Lane Post Office, and went on hunger strike. She was tiny and brave and I remember her for having hair so long she could sit on it. Would she have wanted to be pardoned by Jeremy Corbyn, as he now proposes? Surely the point of a pardon is to correct an individual injustice — because the person concerned did not commit the crime, for instance. It is not to apply a retrospective political view to what happened. When, in a free society, one breaks the law in order to change it, one is not absolved from punishment just because one acts out of conscience. Indeed, one accepts the state’s right to punish (‘I am ready to go to jail’). Why should suffragettes who broke ordinary law — criminal damage, assault etc — now have it formally and legally declared that they didn’t? It is a form of victor’s justice which reduces the law to a mere matter of power.

This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes, which appears in this week’s Spectator

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