The ‘Last Resort’: A Moral and/or Legal Principle?

Authors

  • Panu Minkkinen University of Helsinki

Keywords:

Criminal justice, constitutionalism, imprisonment, human rights, human dignity, Justicia criminal, constitucionalismo, encarcelamiento, derechos humanos, dignidad humana

Abstract

The paper addresses critically the constitutional status of the so-called ‘last resort’ principle on three different levels: in the jurisprudence of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, in the criminal justice principles at a European level, and, finally, in select human rights instruments at a global level. The paper claims that the penal sanction that the ‘last resort’ principle allegedly delimits, i.e. imprisonment, is a highly polymorphous sanction. In addition to the deprivation of liberty, imprisonment involves elements of corporal punishment and shaming that usually go unrecognised. Correspondingly, the basic right protected by the principle is not exclusively personal freedom as is usually claimed but an equally polymorphous human dignity. The polymorphosity of both imprisonment and human dignity, both the sanction and the right it threatens, introduces a ‘fuzziness’ into the ‘last resort’ that is typical of the principles of liberal constitutionalism.

El artículo aborda críticamente la situación constitucional del principio llamado “último recurso”, a partir de tres niveles diferentes: en la jurisprudencia de la Corte Constitucional Federal de Alemania, en los principios de la justicia penal en el ámbito europeo, y, por último, en determinados instrumentos de los derechos humanos a nivel mundial. En el artículo se afirma que la sanción penal que el principio de "último recurso" supuestamente delimita, por ejemplo el encarcelamiento, es una sanción que asume múltiples formas. Además de la privación de libertad, el encarcelamiento implica elementos de castigo corporal y vergüenza que suelen pasar desapercibidos. En consecuencia, el derecho fundamental protegido por el principio no es exclusivamente la libertad personal como se suele afirmar, sino la dignidad humana, igualmente polimorfa. Las numerosas formas que adoptan tanto el encarcelamiento como la dignidad humana, la sanción como el derecho que amenaza, introduce una "falta de claridad" en el "último recurso" que es típico de los principios del constitucionalismo liberal.

DOWNLOAD THIS PAPER FROM SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2200411

Author Biography

Panu Minkkinen, University of Helsinki

Professor of Jurisprudence at the Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki. He is involved in the editorial work of two international journals: Law and Critique (published by Springer), and Law, Culture and the Humanities (published by Sage). His research work is guided by a dedication to interdisciplinary approaches to law and international co-operation, and his current research projects deal with constitutional theory and law as a human science. University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law. P.O. Box 4 (Yliopistonkatu 3). FI-00014 University of Helsinki. Finland.

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How to Cite

Minkkinen, P. (2013) “The ‘Last Resort’: A Moral and/or Legal Principle?”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 3(1), pp. 21–30. Available at: https://opo.iisj.net/index.php/osls/article/view/201 (Accessed: 28 June 2022).

Issue

Section

Part one: Theoretical approaches on ultima ratio

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