Penalty should fit the crime – for all

According to news reports, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy risks one year of imprisonment and a fine of €3,750 if convicted of illegal campaign funding. 

The alleged crimes date from 2012 and if he is found guilty it is far too late to hold a re-election. Investigations of electoral fraud or illegal funding are of limited use if they take place so long after the events. Ideally it should be possible to detect the crime in time to annul the election and hold another. Electoral campaign funding should be more tightly controlled.

Elections are an expensive business, so fines should be large enough to contribute significantly to the costs of holding another. The fine Mr Sarkozy would face is a token one and would be far exceeded by the cost of detaining him in prison for a year.

As no one is suggesting that he is a danger to the public, what purpose would be served by holding him behind bars? Vengeance? Salving of the national conscience? A deterrent, perhaps? French prisons are overcrowded as it is.

The prison sentence serves little purpose and the fine is derisory, for someone of Mr Sarkozy’s means. A far heftier fine, possibly in combination with community service, would be a far more appropriate punishment.

In some countries (France is not alone), the relationship between crime and punishment needs a great deal of fresh thinking.

James Chater, Yonne

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