Monday 25 June 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: Why it's always important to hear the words 'I'm sorry'

Paddy Jackson (left) and Stuart Olding. Photo: PA
Paddy Jackson (left) and Stuart Olding. Photo: PA
Ciara Kelly

Ciara Kelly

I've always been sceptical in court cases, of apologies or indeed showing remorse, being taken into account when it comes to sentencing. Often times you hear after a conviction, how a defendant did or didn't show remorse and how that was viewed as mitigating or exacerbating when the judge was deciding that person's fate. My logic has always been that it was very possibly insincere so why should it knock time off their sentence? I figured if you were the kind of person to bash/rape/kill someone in the first place - you probably weren't the kind of person to feel unduly sorry about it afterwards. And indeed it struck me it was an all too simple way of manipulating the court into going easy on you. Cynic that I am.

But I have changed my mind.

Words matter. It may be that what the person says about their actions is not sincere. And they may indeed be saying it in order to get a lighter punishment. But I now see there is still a value in them saying it. There is a value in the victim hearing it. I believe it is worse for someone who has experienced violence at the hand of someone else - in seeing them show no remorse about that event. In never hearing them apologise for what they have done. And there is some healing I suspect for victims in hearing. "I am sorry for my actions." So I now believe that those admissions or regret should indeed be incentivised.

And what has made me rethink my position? The recent Belfast rape trial. Obviously in that case all four defendants were found not guilty. There was no conviction. There was no sentencing. Therefore there was no need to show any remorse.

Indeed there was no obligation on them to make any statement whatsoever. But two of them chose to and their statements were wholly different in tone - which is what got me thinking.

Stuart Olding made a statement that was filled with regret. He said while he acknowledged he had committed no criminal offence - "I am sorry for the hurt that was caused to the complainant." It showed a degree of compassion towards what the young woman at the centre of the trial had gone through, during the legal process and it was the right tone and a decent thing to say after a court case where there were no real winners.

Paddy Jackson's statement after the trial was in complete contrast. Jackson referred to the complainant's 'inconsistency', described the verdict as 'no surprise' and focused instead on the hard time he had had, and the vile commentary he had been subjected to. It left a sour note. It could be viewed as triumphalist. It wasn't enough to be found not guilty.

It was that statement, those words, that resulted in part, in an overspill of public anger directed solely at Paddy Jackson rather than both Jackson and Olding.

And indeed he may not be unaware of that as he released a second unsolicited statement nine days later that mirrored Stuart Olding's almost exactly. Now Jackson too regrets the events of that evening. And he is 'ashamed' that a young woman who was a visitor to his home left in a distressed state.

Now I have no idea what Jackson or Olding truly feel about the events of that night. No one does. We can only know what they say about it.

But what they say matters too.

Much has been made of the difference in tone of Jackson's two statements. Much has been made of the time lag between them and the fact that he has much at stake and could use a radical improvement in his PR standing. His second statement has been met with much scepticism and I understand why it's been called too little too late.

But I'm still glad he's said it. I cannot know how the young woman at the centre of that trial feels but I'm sure she must be bruised from a legal process that's so hard on complainants. Statements of regret will not change the events that led to the trial nor the fall out that everyone in Belfast Crown Court will suffer. But they go some way towards acknowledging the pain that must have been felt these past two years. Expressions of humility and regret still have a value.

@ciarakellydoc

Ciara presents Lunchtime Live on Newstalk weekdays, 12-2.

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