This phrase is one of those things that authority uses when it has lost control of a situation. When the child, or doctor, or second lieutenant has gone and done something that can neither be condoned nor hidden. It is the phrase that attempts to disconnect the owner from the dog after it has bitten the baby.
Uh-uh. If you have not bothered to prevent the disaster, it is no good trying to make the thing better by getting a minion to grovel. If there has been no moral responsibility beforehand there is precious little of it afterwards.
It is also a phrase we see when someone has decided that injustices to someone’s ancestors can be punished in current days – generally by an effusion of crocodile tears and public money. In a pinch they are prepared to forego the tears…
I should be interested to see someone take the opposite injunction – ” Say you’re not sorry ” and see where it might be correctly applied. I think it would make many activists and a great many of their lawyers unhappy.