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Speech by Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb DBE: The Annual Borderlands Lecture

A lecture to examine the nature of remorse, its significance in the criminal justice system & the role of judges who assess it. The influence of remorse in transitional and restorative justice will also be considered.


1. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be with you tonight. A pleasure because I love visiting beautiful Durham where our daughter is in her last year and a privilege because of the prestigious nature of this lecture demonstrated by those in whose footsteps I am honoured to follow. They include two Archbishops, a Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the founder of the Independent newspaper, and your very own Rev. Professor Wilkinson who has PhDs in both theoretical astrophysics and systematic theology! His broad interests epitomise the character of the annual Borderlands Lecture; to delve into diverse disciplines in order to identify the borders they share.

Why am I using this lecture to explore remorse, particularly in sentencing?

2. It is possible to get the impression from public discussion of judges’ work that a judge can impose absolutely any sentence he wants to. That isn’t correct. Sentencing is a complex exercise which prototypically displays the exacting craft of judging. To reach a lawful and just sentence engages a judge’s intellectual reasoning and knowledge of the law. But those would be nothing without a dispassionate understanding of human beings. Determining in court whether an offender is truly remorseful (rather than, say, regretful, feeling guilty or ashamed) and, if so, what if any, impact his remorse should have, is not straightforward. In fact, although remorse is often put forward by advocates as a mitigating feature it is almost unheard of for an offender to give evidence of his remorse at a sentencing hearing. Experience also shows that sometimes deep remorse only emerges well after sentencing when an offender has time to reflect.

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