Capital offence

One story that caught my eye before the riots was this story regarding a series of you-gov polls where many voted for a debate on bringing back capital punishment in the UK.

Has the silly season started already? Well its good to see that the old-geezers-that-read-the-Daily-Mail-an-wha-fought-in-the-war-like-(least we think we did)-that-reckon-we-should bring-back-hangin-an-send-all-the-immigrants-home-even-the-ones-who-were-born-here generation have found the internet. What a pity they brought their narrow bigoted medieval world view with them. One of the problems with these you-gov polls, and many internet petitions in general, is the ease with which they can be abused. One can only vote to support the measure, not vote against it.

Had someone proposed a poll suggesting that Comedian Mark Thomas take on capital punishment be adopted, I reckon they’ve have won over. Incidentally, his quip was that capital punishment should be brought back but made voluntary. You can opt in to capital punishment, specify a list of things that you reckon should be hanging offences (dog shitting on lawns, dropping litter, failing to indicate when changing lanes, what ever takes you’re fancy really) and if YOU get ever caught doing any of these, then they hang you for it :>>!

But seriously, I can’t believe we need to have this debate, but since the old Daily Mail geezers brought it up…What’s wrong with capital punishment? Well firstly it’s a concept built on a series of falsehoods. Firstly, that our criminal justice system is infallible and always works perfectly. Not true, it’s probable that a significant number of cases lead to some form of miscarriage of justice. Consequently supporters of capital punishment are prepared to see innocent people killed just to satisfy their egos. Such judicial murder has little moral difference between it and the morality of the murderer himself. Also jury’s might be less willing to convict if they know it’s a hanging offence rather than jail, hence the conviction rate for actual murders will likely fall not rise.

The second falsehood of capital punishment is that it acts as a deterrent and prevents murders. There is no evidence to support this, indeed the murder rates in many countries with capital punishment (such as America) is often much higher than in other countries without it (such as Britain or Canada). It’s also argued that the majority of murders are “heat of the moment” affairs, and thus capital punishment is unlikely to act as any form of deterrent in such circumstances. It could make some hardened criminals think twice, but generally I suspect it will mean them adopting a more ruthless policy of leaving no living witnesses if things go wrong (e.g. a bank robber accidentally kills a guard, game theory would say his best course of action, under a capital punishment regime, would be to kill everyone else in the room and thus reduce the probability of him being convicted, and if he gets caught anyway, what are they going to do? hang him ten times!).

The third falsehood is that there is a humane way of executing someone, but there’s not (other than making them listen to all the 4,000 episodes of the Archers one after the other without a break). Even the lethal injection process used in the states is now being questioned.

Inevitably capital punishment meets the terms of “cruel and unusual” punishment. This would put the UK in breach of various EU treaties requiring it to leave the EU (not that that would put off the Daily Mail lot who want that anyway) but here’s one that will throw them in a tizzy – it would also invalidate a number of extradition treaties with England’s neighbours! Hence you commit a murder and don’t want to be hung for it? Hop on a boat and go to France or Ireland. Worried about being caught at the border? Go via Northern Ireland and just drive south, no border controls of any kind. Even if the French or Irish police catch you, they cannot extradite you back to Britain if the brits have capital punishment, so rather than doing 25 years in Strangeways, you’ll do a life sentence on beaches of le Cote du Azur B), oh la la!

And of course, as Scotland has a separate judicial system (you’ll note my use of the E word above), and its unlikely that such a proposal would get past a Scottish parliament, you might only need to head North into Caledonia (again no border controls, only 8 hours drive from London) and hide out in Paisley…tho I would warn you that survival chances in Paisley for a Englishman are probably less than those on death row!

As Pierrepoint, one of Britain’s last hang men, put it “I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge”. Or as Gandhi put it “an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind”.

All anyone who proposes “bringing back hangin” succeeds in demonstrating is that he hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about. It’s a tough sound bite, makes you sound hard, but its soft on logic and a morally bankrupt proposal that would create far more problems that it solves. So thanks guys for letting us know to ignore anything you propose in future.

Oh, and read Charlie Brookers take on this here. Word of warning, its a bit dark!


10 thoughts on “Capital offence

    • Hanging is cheaper?

      Not when you consider the cost of the endless legal appeals beforehand (this isn’t the 1970’s anymore). Look at the US ,it can cost millions in legal fees b4 an execution.

      And of course should you hang the wrong person, that’s another few million in compo to his relatives, and probably the victims family will sue also.


      • Those are good points, but there are also a lot of court costs in sending people to prison with several levels of appeal and on conviction, prisons’s an ongoing expense that increases with inflation.


      • The time periods over which the legal costs accumulate can be quite long, they’ve people in the US who have been on death row for up to twenty years while all the appeals are processed, so that’s 20 years legal fees (his too as he’ll likely be getting legal aid) building up with inflation and you still need to pay his prison costs, which I’m assuming for death row are much higher due to the security levels.

        Also execution costs. In the US once they tick all the H&S boxes (yes I know the point of an execution is that its supposed to be lethally unsave, but we won’t want him slipping on the floor and breaking his neck beforehand!) you can wind up with a final bill in the hundreds of thousands.

        And even if you’re right about costs, there is a slippery slope here. Governments being allowed to kill people in order to save money where will that one end? with people’s life support machines being turned off most probably.

        The cost of running the UK’s prisons are but a tiny fraction of the total policing costs which are but a small fraction of the UK budget (about 0.7% of total UK budget goes to the DoJ probably less that a 1/4 of that goes to prisons), so we’re talking about saving penny’s here. And if the cost of running prisons ever became an issue, we could just get the prisoners to work. You could bring in Directline or Tesco’s and setup a call centre…tho you won’t want to get snobby about you’re home insurance policy with them…”I know where you live” would take on a whole new meaning 😉


      • You can’t compare the USA with England, the costs and systems are very different.
        In any case if the death penalty and the methods used to get it organised were modernised and made properly efficient, your criticisms would largely disappear.
        The English judiciary is independent of government, so the death penalty is not a case of the state killing people.
        Making money out of prisoners, is a very difficult subject. You are suggesting a return to the Workhouse system, which was largely condemned as a crime against Humanity. Jobs are done by prisoners for which they get some pay and a lot of therapy. Educating them or re-educating, would be the right approach to take, although not necessarily in the case of murders.


      • Unfortunately the difference between the UK and American style judicial system is forever narrowing, indeed the lack of a UK consitution creates all sorts of loopholes for the lawyers to run rings around the courts and delay cases for prolonged periods while it gets kicked up to the House of Lords, or the European court of human rights.

        “crime against humanity”…and killing an innocent person for a crime he didn’t commit (as inevitably will happen with capital punishment) isn’t a crime?


      • I’m not saying it is or isn’t a crime, just pointing out the consensus on the subject of Workhouses.
        Obviously, “the Law is an Ass” and need vast amounts of common sense to be applied.

        I am against the idea of punishment or revenge on a criminal, when what is needed is to re-educate them and turn them back into a useful citizen. Unfortunately punishment does not act as deterrent. In many cases it often makes the person more likely to commit crime.
        In the case of a case where there is no hope of them ever giving up their anti-social ways, then they should be kept out of circulation in one way or another.


  1. Re: “The second falsehood of capital punishment is that it acts as a deterrent and prevents murders. There is no evidence to support this…”

    The evidence is compelling. Here in the USA, when we phased out capital punishment in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the murder rate doubled. When we reinstated capital punishment on a small scale, the murder rate fell by 25%, even though the overall violent crime rate hardly budged.

    Now, ask yourself, what would bring down the rate of capital crimes, without affecting the rate of other violent crimes? What would deter only capital crimes?

    Isn’t the answer to that obvious?

    BTW, I’ve not done a systematic state-by-state survey, but I noticed the same effect in New York. When New York reinstated capital punishment, their murder rate fell dramatically, even though they hadn’t actually executed anyone. Just the threat of capital punishment was apparently sufficient to help lower the murder rate.


    • Sigh! and all you demonstrate (again!) is a complete inability to perform data analysis. There are several things that could be linked to a drop in murder rates. The death penalty is one. A rise in US population is another (more people = more bad guys = more murders), a rise in gun ownership (more guns = more corpses) is another possiblity, the economic downturn of that era (caused by the oil shock and an over reliance on fossil fuels…as if global warming wasn’t a good enough reason to move away from them!) would also produce an upsurge in crime.

      However, probably the most obvious reason for such a rise would be rise in cocaine and heroin sales within the US over the late 60’s to early 80’s. Ill conceived US foreign policy in South America and East Asia led to an explosion in both the availability of such drugs and the trafficking of it into the US. Drug gangs fighting turf wars with each other would certainly push up the murder rate. A similar trend was I believe observed during the prohibition era in the 1930’s.

      Of course that leaves the question as to why it started to drop? Again, improving economic fortunes seems like one explanation, but a crack down on organised crime seems another. Starting in the late 70’s (under Carter) and carrying on into 2000’s the FBI began a serious push against criminal gangs, notably the Italian Mafia, which saw many leading gang members (and ultimately murderers) banged up.

      Most EU countries abolished the death penalty a few decades ago and generally the rate of murders and violent crime has dropped (or at least not got any substantially worse). Murder rates in the UK are but a fraction of those in the US. I’m not saying that getting rid of the death penalty = drop in murders, more that there is no credible correlation between death penalty and reduced crime rates.

      (For those who aren’t following the poster above is a right-wing AGW denier who wandered in from the following comment string):


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