This year is the 50th anniversary since the last executions were carried out in Britain in 1964.
Following the gruesome and botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on Tuesday (29th April 2014) attorney Madeline Cohen claimed it was tantamount to torture. The execution was so badly carried out that it took 43 minutes before Lockett finally died of a massive heart attack. They had to pull the blinds down to stop the witnesses from viewing it.
According to the Guardian newspaper the British Embassy in Washington even felt a need to comment, reiterating the British government’s opposition to capital punishment, which was finally abolished in Britain in 1969 as follows:
“The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle,” a spokesman said in a statement. “Its use undermines human dignity, there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrent value, and any miscarriage of justice leading to its imposition is irreversible and irreparable. We continue to call on all countries around the world that retain the death penalty to cease its use.”
The USA is the only major Country in the Western world that allows state execution and is one of 58 of the 196 (+-) countries in the world who do.
How can we teach our children that killing is wrong when governments continually engage in acts of war, torture and executions? They will learn to distrust us and the cycle will continue. Prisons will become even more overcrowded and death row will stretch right round the world. When will we learn that by executing the perpetrators of heinous crimes we are destroying the very source of vital information needed to uncover the reasons why individuals are driven to commit these crimes. Execution compounds the problem, solves and achieves nothing.
Most countries abolished the death penalty years ago for various reasons. One of the reasons was the fact that there have been so many miscarriages of justice leading to wrongful convictions and executions. I have no doubt there are still many more that will be uncovered in time.
Michael Mansfield, the eminent QC, believes that the ultimate sanction “can’t be applied in a flawed system of justice”. Mansfield represented both the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, all of whom were wrongly imprisoned for years and would almost certainly have been executed had Britain retained capital punishment. Thankfully their convictions were overturned and they were eventually released.
You can always be sure that mistakes will continue to be made, as has been proved time and time again. Is it therefore acceptable to impose the death penalty, which is irreversible, and risk executing an innocent person? The likelihood is that, in Britain, the situation will get worse as the Government moves towards reducing ‘legal aid’ funding thereby removing an individual’s constitutional right to a professional legal defence.
One of the biggest problems overlooked in miscarriages of justice is that by the time a conviction is overturned (if it is) so many years have passed that the perpetrator of the crime is either dead or never likely to be caught. All the attention is focussed on the wrongly accused and the victim’s family never sees retribution. Many families of murder victims go through weeks or months of torture and are ecstatic when the defendant is convicted, convinced that justice has been done. Then, years later new evidence is found, the verdict is overturned and the wrongly accused is freed but his or her life is ruined. The family of the victim has also been cheated of justice, the perpetrator of the crime is still at large and the case is unlikely to be re-opened.
Imagine if you are the family of the wrongly convicted and he or she is executed. They can’t be released from death!
Juries are humans and humans are fallible. We won’t protect society from evil acts by wasting taxpayers’ money on show trials, taking another life by execution or unnecessary imprisonment. This will never solve society’s problems and neither will it ever bring understanding and knowledge. Putting resources into psychological and psychiatric research, providing help and support for offenders and victims in the community and learning more about societal behaviour is the only way.
It is a long term project but the chances of success are good if we are all committed. The long term benefits would be priceless. Criminals are part of our society not another species from outer space that we have no knowledge of. Let’s try to love and understand ourselves better. Uncontrollable emotions such as vengeance and hatred can never resolve anything and are not acceptable to rational, reasoning people. I don’t suppose for one moment that most people who have killed really knew why they did such a terrible thing but the best way they can atone is to work with professionals so that we may learn more about what went on in their minds.
I think this quote from Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s last and most well-known official executioner, on the death penalty in his 1974 autobiography is very enlightening.
“It is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree…. I do not now believe that any one of the hundreds of executions I carried out has in any way acted as a deterrent against future murder. Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing except revenge.”
I can find no justifiable reason to take another life by state execution, under the pretence that judicial murder is acceptable because it is lawful.
Mahatma Ghandi summed it all up very well when he said
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.