Punishment and Human Rights


Higher postgraduate course, second semester.

Course convener(s): Ms Kelly Phelps

Course outline:
This course aims to provide students with a sound theoretical understanding both of the justifications of punishment and human rights constraints in the context of sentencing. Students then apply this understanding to practical examples in order to assess how/ if the theory translates into practice. In so doing it is hoped to transcend a common-sense approach to sentencing and punishment and to build firm opinions/ approaches based on acquired knowledge.
The course is divided into four broad sections. The first section introduces the class to the various philosophical justifications that have historically been provided for sentencing. A brief introduction is also provided to the relationship between human rights law and penal sanctions. The second section explores in detail the current justifications for punishment/ purposes of the correctional system. In so doing, issues such as deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, restoration, retribution and just deserts will be explored. Section three deals with constraints placed on sentencing in South Africa by human rights norms contained in the Bill of Rights and international law. The final section of the course places the preceding theoretical/philosophical discussions into a practical context by dealing with current and future sentencing practice in South Africa, modes of implementing punishment (e.g. prison) and special stakeholders in punishment.

DP requirements: 80% attendance at, and satisfactory participation in, seminars and the completion of the research papers and oral presentation.

Assessment: The presentation of at least one seminar and two research papers. Marks given for the seminars and research papers comprise the entire mark for the course.