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History of Punishment


In primitive society punishment was left to the individuals wronged or their families and was vindictive or retributive: in quantity and quality it would bear no special relation to the character or gravity of the offenсe. Gradually there arose the idea of proportionate punishment of which the characteristic type is “an eye for an eye”. In early times a superstitious belief in omens, ghosts, witchcraft and the like was very common. Superstitions maintained a grip on the lives of many people. It was tempting and easy to blame almost any misfortune on somebody else, and sometimes senile old women were often the target being accused of all kinds of witchcraft. “Witches” were frequently executed.

Trial by ordeal is a judicial practice by which the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined by subjecting them to an unpleasant, usually dangerous experience. Indeed, the term ordeal itself has the meaning of “judgment, verdict”. In some cases the accused were considered innocent if they survived the test or if their injuries healed. In others, only death was considered proof of innocence. If the accused died they were often presumed to have gone punishment. In medieval Europe like trial by combat trial by ordeal was considered a procedure based on the premise that God would help the innocent by performing a miracle.

With the passage of time the attitude of society towards the excesses of the criminal law gradually changed. The courts and the people themselves came to rebel against all the savagery. As to the people, the last public execution in England took place in 1868, in front of Newgate Prison. The condemned man was Michael Barrett, an Irish rebel sentenced for his part in a bomb attack. The crowd sympathized with Barrett and was so hostile towards the hangman that the execution almost caused a riot. From that time onwards all executions were held inside prisons. It was not until 1969 that the death penalty for murder was finally abolished. Imprisonment has always been a favored form of punishment. For hundreds of years the Tower of London was regarded as the premier prison in the land.

The progress of civilization has resulted in a vast change in both the theory and in the method of punishment. With the growth of law, the state took over the punitive function and provided itself with the machinery of justice for the maintenance of public order. From that time crimes were against the state, and such punishment as lynching became illegal. In the eighteenth century the humanitarian movement began to teach the dignity of the individual and to emphasize rationality and responsibility. The result was the reduction of punishment both in quantity and in severity, the improvement of the prison system, and the first attempts to study the psychology of crime and to distinguish classes of criminals with a view to their improvement. Later law breakers were considered as a product of social evolution and cannot be regarded as solely responsible for their disposition to offences. Crime was treated as a disease. Punishment, therefore, can be justified only if it either protects society or acts as a deterrent, or when it aims at the moral regeneration of the criminal.


5. Найдите в тексте английские эквиваленты следующим словам и словосочетаниям.

1. осуждать

2. колдовство

3. возложить вину

4. казнить

5. обвинять

6. доказательство невиновности

7. превышение судебных правомочий

8. поднять бунт против суровых мер наказания

9. тюремное заключение

10. отменить смертный приговор

11. сдерживающее устрашением средство

12. приговорить к наказанию


6. Выразите согласие/несогласие со следующими утверждениями.

1. A judicial practice by which the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined is a verdict.

2. Trial by ordeal meant severe experience for the accused.

3. There were a lot of theories confirming the effectiveness of trial by ordeal.

4. The result of progress was the improvement of the prison system.

5. The last public execution took place in 1968 in France.


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