Almost 50 years have passed since the death penalty was abolished for murder in Britain. In 1965 Labour MP Sydney Silverman introduced a private member’s bill to stop capital punishment, which was subsequently passed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The resulting Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 – made permanent in 1969 – suspended the death penalty in England, Wales and Scotland – introducing a mandatory life imprisonment sentence in its place. Despite a lack of public support, politicians of all stripes took a stand and rejected this punishment as unfit for use in modern Britain.
However many countries still use the death penalty as punishment, even today. These include three of the most populous nations in the world: China, India and the USA. The long wait on death row for the date of execution causes extreme psychological torment. Many inmates are detained in cells unsuitable for humans and unsurprisingly many develop mental illness and disabilities as a result. Regardless of the method used, the eventual executions are always cruel and inhumane – and in many cases go wrong causing even more suffering.
Closer to home the recent launch of the Government’s e-petitions website saw the return of the death penalty heading the list of demands. Chillingly more than 40 of the first 200 petitions called for the reintroduction of capital punishment, attracting thousands of signatures. However, soon after, an even more popular (but largely unreported) petition emerged, opposing any such return to the death penalty, suggesting that the British people are not as keen as we are often led to believe to see the return of capital punishment.
It was actually a childhood debate about capital punishment that helped inspire Liberty’s Director Shami Chakrabarti to pursue a career in law and human rights. Aged 12, she felt the Yorkshire Ripper should face the ultimate punishment. But her father – one of her biggest influences – warned of the dangers of taking another person’s life; promptly changing her mind.
Join her and everyone else at Liberty and at human rights organisations worldwide in marking this year’s World Day Against the Death Penalty. Help us spread the word about the inhumanity of this practice and remind everyone that capital punishment has no place in any civilised society. To find out more about our Common Values campaign, the fundamental rights and freedoms that protect every member of the human family and the society we seek to build together, visit the campaign section of our website and add your support.
- For more information on the World Day Against the Death Penalty click here