Incest : a case study in determining the optimal use of the criminal sanction

Nel, Mary (2003-12)

Thesis (LLM)--Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The aim of this study is to determine standards or criteria to be used when deciding on the optimal use of the criminal sanction and to evaluate the efficacy of such criteria by applying them to an existing crime, namely incest. Since criminal punishment necessarily impacts negatively on the human rights of those subject to it, it is submitted that it should only be used as a last resort where it is absolutely necessary to do so. Relevant constitutional provisions and other legal sources are examined and used as the basis for expounding a test for determining the circumstances under which it is appropriate to criminalise. It is argued that the decision to utilise the criminal sanction may be tested against certain guidelines: the state bears the burden of showing, firstly, that the rationale of the crime in question is theoretically justifiable in that criminalisation serves a worthy state purpose; and secondly, that criminalisation is reasonable, being both practically desirable and effective in achieving legitimate state goals in the least restrictive manner possible. In the second part of the thesis, the proposed criteria are applied to the common law crime of incest. An initial discussion of the crime indicates that a wide range of conduct is punishable as incest, including both extremely harmful conduct, such as the rape of a child by her father, and completely innocuous behaviour, for instance private sexual intercourse between consenting adults who are merely related by marriage. Next, an attempt is made to ascertain the true rationale for criminalising incest and then to establish whether such rationale is justifiable. The conclusion is reached that despite there being good grounds for punishing certain manifestations of incest, the only reason for imposing criminal punishment that is valid in all instances, is the unconvincing contention that the state is justified in prohibiting incest merely because incest is regarded as morally abhorrent. And even assuming that targeting and preventing undesirable forms of harmful or offensive conduct is a justifiable purpose of the incest prohibition, it is nevertheless submitted that criminalising incest is unreasonable, since the crime as it is presently formulated is both over- and under-inclusive for the effective realisation of any praiseworthy aims. After testing incest against the criteria developed, the recommendation is made that incest be decriminalised. It is contended that there are sufficient alternative criminal prohibitions available that would adequately punish harmful incestuous conduct without simultaneously unreasonably limiting the rights of consenting adults to choose their sexual (or marriage) partner without state interference. Decriminalisation would not only prevent potential violations of human rights, but the legitimacy of the criminal justice system as a whole would be considerably enhanced if it were apparent that the criminal sanction was reserved for conduct truly deserving of punishment.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die oogmerk van hierdie studie is om standaarde of riglyne daar te stel ter aanwending waar besluit word oor die optimale benutting van die strafsanksie, asook om die doeltreffendheid van sulke riglyne vas te stel deur die toepassing daarvan op 'n bestaande misdaad, naamlik bloedskande. Aangesien straf altyd 'n nadelige uitwerking op die menseregte van dié wat daaraan onderhewig is, het, word aan die hand gedoen dat dit slegs as 'n laaste uitweg aangewend moet word indien absoluut noodsaaklik. Ondersoek word ingestel na toepaslike grondwetlike bepalings en ander regsbronne, wat gebruik word as grondslag vir 'n toets ten einde te bepaalonder welke omstandighede kriminalisasie gepas is. Daar word aan die hand gedoen dat die besluit om gebruik te maak van 'n strafsanksie teen sekere riglyne getoets kan word. Die staat dra die bewyslas om aan te toon, eerstens, dat die bestaansrede vir die betrokke misdaad teoreties regverdigbaar is aangesien krimininalisasie 'n waardige staatsdoel dien; en tweedens, dat kriminalisasie redelik is, aangesien dit prakties wenslik is, asook die staat se legitieme doelwitte dien op effektiewe wyse op die mees onbeperkende wyse moontlik. In die tweede gedeelte van die verhandeling word die voorgestelde riglyne op die gemeenregtelike misdaad bloedskande toegepas. 'n Aanvanklike bespreking van die misdaad dui daarop dat die trefwydte van bloedskande sodanig is dat dit gedrag insluit wat uiters benadelend is, soos byvoorbeeld die verkragting van 'n kind deur haar vader, maar ook heeltemal onskadelike optrede soos byvoorbeeld geslagsverkeer tussen toestemmende volwassenes wat bloot aanverwante is. Die volgende stap is om die ware bestaansrede vir die verbod op bloedskande vas te stel en daarna te oorweeg of sodanige bestaansrede regverdigbaar is. Die gevolgtrekking is dat alhoewel daar goeie gronde vir die bestrawwing van sekere verskyningsvorme van bloedskande is, die enigste altyd-geldende rede vir strafoplegging in hierdie verband die onoortuigende bewering dat bloedskande moreelonverdraaglik beskou word, is. Selfs al word daar aanvaar dat die identifikasie en voorkoming van onwenslike verskyningsvorme van skadelike of aanstootlike gedrag 'n regverdigbare doel vir die bloedskandeverbod is, voer die skrywer nie te min aan dat die kriminalisasie van bloedskande onredelik is omrede die huidige misdaadomskrywing tegelykertyd beide oor- en onder- inklusief is om einge moontlike goeie doelwitte effektief te bereik. Nadat bloedskande getoets word teen die riglyne wat ontwikkel is, word aanbeveel dat bloedskande gedekriminaliseer word. Daar word aan die hand gedoen dat daar genoegsame alternatiewe strafbepalings is wat aangewend kan word om skadelike gedrag wat onder die misdaad bloedskande resorteer te bestraf sonder dat die regte van toestemmende volwassenes om sonder staatsinmenging hul seksuele- (of huweliks-) maat te kies onredelik ingeperk word. Dekriminalisasie sal nie slegs moontlike menseregteskendings voorkom nie, maar ook die legitimiteit van die strafregstelsel as geheel bevorder deurdat dit duidelik blyk dat die strafsankie reserveer word vir optrede wat werklik straf verdien.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/53462
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