Greg Lance – Watkins
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an interesting perspective on the Death Penalty by Peter Hitchen on his Mail blog, originally posted in 2008, but posted again 01-Jan-2020, with which I largely agree.
I believe that it is the duty of a civilised society to take all reasonable actions to protect innocent citizens from the determined action of those who would do them harm. In the case of that harm being an act, other than accidental, that leads to the death of the victim I believe the normal defence by the state should be execution.
This acts as an ultimate sanction for the ultimate crime, whether considered retribution or punishment is a matter of indifference to me. I do believe that mitigating circumstances should be taken into account such as self-defence, prolonged and violent abuse, aggravated rape or the like.
I also believe that certain situations of child abuse, rape and premeditation for crime, profit or pleasure should bear the death penalty also.
There are those who seek to claim that the justice system may prove wrong, to which I respond that it is also the duty of the state to ensure informed and responsible juries, totally exhaustive evidence and detailed trial where the judge may NOT guide the outcome beyond reiteration and clarification of the facts as presented, to avoid the obscene outcome seem in the trial of Al Magragi in the Lockerby trial where Lord Cullen’s summing up was a disgrace leading the jury to a clearly false verdict.
It is my belief that should any party be found to have fabricated evidence during the trial they should be charged with attempted murder whether public, private, police, witness, expert witness or judge they should be charged with attempted murder. If discovered subsequent to the verdict they should be charged with murder by design and premeditation.
It is the duty of the state to ensure modern forensics are available to both the prosecution and the defence and that the caliber of defence and prosecution are of like standard and that every measure is taken to ensure a fair trial under British law, without the interference of alien systems of law such as that of Roman Law as practiced in the EU.
It is the duty of Parliament to draw up law in accord with the wishes and values of the informed public NOT with the scope to subsequently judge such law. Nor should it be possible for the courts to enact variance on the law as passed.
Q & A on the Death Penalty
Faced yet again with this issue, (I am very weary of it and cannot foresee the return of proper juries and the re-invigoration of a strong free press without which I could not support the death penalty) I here provide a basic Q&A first posted here in 2008 as part of another debate, which may be of some use – if only in bypassing the emotional, factually mistaken rubbish so often peddled by both sides on the subject.
For those of you faced with arguments at work or in the pub about the death penalty, I shall now provide a Question and Answer guide to the case for hanging.
Q. Well, I would be in favour of the death penalty, but I am worried about innocent people being hanged. Doesn’t that fear make it impossible to have a death penalty?
A. No. It is a perfectly good argument for taking a huge amount of trouble to ensure that innocents are not executed. It is also a good argument for bringing back some sort of property or education qualification for juries, and abolishing majority verdicts. Nobody should be hanged except on a unanimous verdict of a jury of mature and educated people. But the world isn’t perfect, and we don’t let this concern for the innocent stand in the way of lots of other policies, many of them supported by the very people who raise this objection to execution.
For instance, every three years, two people are killed by convicted murderers released early from prison. These victims are innocent. In that case, the liberals who advance this argument would have to accept that every convicted murderer should be locked up for life without the chance of parole so as to avoid the risk to the innocent. But they don’t believe this. So where’s their concern for innocent death now? Then again, most people supported the Kosovo war and still do (especially liberals). But when we bombed Serbia, we knew that innocents were bound to die, and they duly did die – including the make-up lady at the Belgrade TV station. That didn’t stop these liberal leftists, who oppose hanging guilty murderers, from supporting it, and continuing to support it after those deaths had taken place. The same went for the Iraq war, and the Libya war.
Not a liberal leftist? Then there’s our mad transport policy which just happens to suit quite a lot of us down to the ground, of relying so heavily on motor cars that we require an incredibly feeble driving test and allow tens of thousands of unskilled people to drive cars when they are far too young (or old) to drive responsibly. We know from experience that this will result, every year , in many hundreds of innocent deaths. Yet we do nothing.
Our failure to act, in the knowledge that this failure will lead to those deaths, is deliberate, conscious self-interested negligence, morally equivalent to deliberate proxy killing for personal advantage (as offered by Harry Lime to Holly Martins in the Big Wheel in ‘The Third Man’). It is also the reason why the courts don’t adequately punish those who kill while driving. We’re all conscious that driving isn’t really safe, that we impose far too much responsibility on drivers in a fundamentally dangerous system, and that it could so easily have been us who did the killing. Personally I think this intolerable carnage is a much more urgent problem in our society than the faint hypothetical risk of hanging someone for a murder he didn’t commit. So is the growing level both of homicide itself, and of violence (see figures on ‘wounding to endanger life’ and attempted murder below) that would be homicidal were it not for our superb emergency surgeons, who nightly drag back dozens from the lip of the grave.
People dislike being told this truth about killing innocents and our real attitude towards it, because it is absolutely true and very harrowing (I’ve entirely left outr the abortion question on the basis of ‘one thing at a time’) . These deaths are all of innocent people. If the fear of killing an innocent person really was an overwhelming veto on a public policy, then the driving test would have to be made so difficult that most of us could never pass it, speed limits would have to be lower than they are now, and seriously enforced, and private car ownership restricted to a tiny few highly-skilled persons.
The truth is that the fear of killing innocents is not a reason to abolish or ban capital punishment. If it were, we’d have to abolish the armed services and be forced to ride bicycles. It is a reason for being very careful about using it. This argumnent (often advanced by poiliticians who fear having to authorise executions personally) is an excuse for people not to face up to their responsibilities.
I’d add that the abolition of the death penalty has been followed by (I strongly suspect that the relationship is causal) the increased use of firearms by police. In the USA, where the detah penalty is a political fiction(see below) police shoot dead roughly 900 people a year. I’m not going to say theyre all innocent as no doubt many are not,m but they have certainly not undergine due process, jury trial, multiple appeals etc. Yet nobody cares.
Q. How can you express moral disapproval of killing, by killing someone else?
A. It is not killing we are trying to express loathing for. It is murder. All of us, except absolute pacifists, accept that killing is sometimes justified. In simple self-defence, the case is easy. In defensive war, in which aggressive actions are permitted, less straightforward but still acceptable to most of us. And I think quite a few of us would be ready to forgive and condone in advance an assassination of an aggressive tyrant before he could embark on war. So we license armed forces to shoot back at our attackers, or to attack our attackers in retaliation or deterrence.
What we are disapproving of is murder ( the Commandment is not, as so often said ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’, but ‘Thou Shalt do no Murder’). Murder, remember, is the deliberate, premeditated, merciless (and often prolonged and physically cruel in the extreme) killing of an innocent person, generally for the personal gain of the murderer. There is no comparison between such an action and the lawful, swift execution of a guilty person, after a fair trial with presumption of innocence, the possibility of appeal and of reprieve.
Absolute pacifists are at least consistent, but if they had their way we’d be in a German empire where innocent people were being executed all the time with gas-chambers, guillotines and piano-wire, and worse. So their consistency doesn’t offer much of a way out.
Q. But deterrence doesn’t work. Most states in the USA have the death penalty and the murder rate is often higher there than in states that don’t have it.
A. First of all, this is not the USA, a country with aterrible history of slavery and racial segregation and far higher levels of violence (until recently anyway) than we have had for centuries. Comparisons between the two countries need to be made with great care. Secondly, no US state really has the death penalty. Even Texas, which comes closest, still fails to execute the great majority of its convicted murderers, who fester for decades on death row while conscience-stricken liberals drag out their appeals to the crack of doom. Texas suffered 1,322 murders in 2018. It executed 13 killers that year. Most states which formally have the penalty on their books seldom or never apply it. Louisiana, in theory a death penalty state, suffers about 500 murders a year. Its last execution was in fact in 2010.
The 1949 UK Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (which was inconclusive on deterrence and most other things) pointed out that deterrence was very hard to establish. Countries which abolish the death penalty usually do so after a long period of suspension, or when it is hardly used, or when the law is unclear. So the murder rates before and after the formal date of abolition often tell us very little. In Britain, this is also the case. The death penalty had its teeth drawn in 1957 and the annual number of executions in the final years of capital punishment was small. So the penalty’s official date of abolition, 1965, is misleading. There’s another feature of this I’ll turn to later.
Then there is the difficulty of classifying murder. The 1957 Act introduced a category of ‘manslaughter due to diminished responsibility’ which got you off the death penalty. And so, for the eight years after 1957, this category of homicide grew quite sharply. Some suspect that these are cases which would have been murders before 1957. If that is so, as we shall see, then it makes quite a lot of difference. Since then, it has not been so important, since the difference between a manslaughter sentence and the so-called ‘life’ sentences given for murder is no longer as stark as the old distinction between a prison sentence or an appointment with Mr Albert Pierrepoint on the scaffold.
Nowadays, it is suspected (especially by the relatives of victims who write to me about this complaining) that quite a lot of cases which would once have been prosecuted as murder are now prosecuted as manslaughter so as to get a quicker, easier conviction.
So the homicide statistics offer a rather wobbly idea of what is going on. Skip this if you want, but it is important. The blurred categories might suggest one thing, while actually saying another. Even so, here are some samples.In 1956, when the death penalty was still pretty serious, there were 94 convictions for homicide in England and Wales (all future figures refer to England and Wales unless otherwise stated). Of these, 11 were for infanticide, 51 for manslaughter and 32 for murder. In 1958, after the softening of the law, there were 113 homicide convictions – 10 infanticides, 48 manslaughters, 25 for manslaughter with ‘diminished responsibility’ and 30 for murder. By 1964 there were 170 homicide convictions – 12 infanticides, 73 manslaughters, 41 manslaughters due to ‘diminished responsibility’ , 44 murders. So, in eight years, a rise in homicide from 94 to 170, quite substantial. But those convicted for murder had risen only from 32 to 44, which hardly seems significant at all. What was really going on here could only be established by getting out the trial records. But it is at least possible that, by reclassifying and downgrading certain homicides, the authorities had made things look a good deal better than they were. Remember, these are convictions, not totals of offences committed.
Sorry, more statistics here. In 1966, immediately after formal abolition, there were 254 homicide convictions, 72 of them for murder. In 1975, 377 homicide convictions, 107 for murder. In 1985, 441 manslaughter convictions, 173 for murder. In 2004, there were 648 homicide convictions – including 361 murders, 265 ordinary manslaughters and 22 ‘diminished responsibilities’. Interestingly, more people were convicted of manslaughter (265) than were charged with it (137) and none of those convicted of ‘diminished responsibility’ (22) were charged with it . Many murder prosecutions failed (759 were proceeded against).
The increasingly important charge of ‘attempted murder’ has also run into trouble. In 2004 417 were proceeded against, and 96 convicted. Prosecutions for wounding or other acts endangering life was even more troublesome, with 7,054 proceeded against and 1,897 convicted. These figures, again, are for charges and convictions rather than instances of the offence, which in both cases is considerably higher. Offences of wounding etc are now close to the 19,000 mark each year, around triple the total for 30 years ago. AS the Indepndnet on Sunday reporte don 27th April 1997 : ‘Britain’s murder rate would be at least treble what it is now but for improvements in medicine and the growing skills of surgeons and paramedics, medical and legal experts believe.
Many people who are now charged with attempted murder or wounding would, several years ago, have been facing a murder charge, as their victims’ lives would not have been saved.
Latest crime figures for the past 20 years show that while the murder rate has increased slightly, from 616 to 745, attempted murder cases have shot up from 155 to 634, and woundings to endanger life have doubled from 5,885 to 10,445.
“The murder rate is artificially low now,” said Professor Bernard Knight, the leading Home Office pathologist who has been involved in a number of high profile cases, including the Fred West murders in Gloucester.
“People say there were far more murders in the old days, but the woundings that happen now would have been murders then. If you look at the rise in murder rate it is very small, but look at the wounding figures and the graph goes up 45 degrees. If that number of woundings had occurred years ago the murder rate would have been massive.” Medical improvements are thought to have had the biggest impact for victims of stabbings and shootings and there are a number of cases of people surviving being knifed through the heart. ‘
This is the point – many of these cases would have been murders, if we still had the medical techniques of 1965. Again, this makes direct ‘before ‘ and ‘after’ comparisons, required for a conclusive case for or against deterrence. hard. And we must also remember the general moral decline that has accompanied the weakening of the law, and may have been encouraged by it. Not to mention the huge increase in marijuan use (associated with violent crime and mental illness) which has also taken place in this period. If you remove the keystone of an arch, many other stones, often quite far away in the structure, will loosen or fall.
Finally, a little historical curiosity which I personally find fascinating. Some American researchers suggest that the sort of murder which has increased since the death penalty in the USA was effectively abolished in the 1970s is so-called ‘stranger’ murder, for example, the killing of a woman by her rapist , or of a petrol station attendant by the man who has robbed him. The calculation ( and criminals do calculate) is simple. “If I leave this person alive, she or he can testify against me, and I could go to jail for a very long time. If I kill him or her, then there will be no witness and I will probably get away with it entirely. And even if I am convicted of murder, all that will happen is jail time.” Bang.
So, the death penalty may actually prevent or deter violent crimes which might otherwise end in an opportunist killing. It is said that British bank-robbers, before 1957, would search each other for weapons in case one of them killed, and they all swung – which was then the rule. And Colin Greenwood, a former police officer and expert on Gun Crime, produces the following interesting , in fact gripping fact. In both 1948 and 1956, the death penalty was suspended in this country while Parliament debated its future. During both periods of suspension, armed and violent offences rose sharply. After the 1948 attempt to abolish hanging failed ( Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin being among the Labour MPs who voted to keep it), they fell sharply. After 1956, when the law was weakened, they fell back again, but not so sharply. In 1964, they rose again, and have been doing so ever since.
I think this, taken together, is strong evidence for a deterrent effect. I am not talking about total deterrence – some crimes could never be deterred – but partial and significant, potentially lifesaving. How many innocents have died, or been horribly maimed, because those who accept the salaries and perks of office are not prepared to assume its hard duties, and wield the civil sword?And yet opponents of the death penalty whimper on about the minuscule danger of hanging the wrong person.
Q. Surely revenge has no part in a civilised society?
A.How true, and how right. One of the purposes of stern penalties is to prevent revenge by making it clear that the law has real teeth. But a toothless law will lead to the return of revenge among us. The bargain we strike with our rulers is that we give up the right to personal vengeance, and the endless blood-feuds that follow it. And in return, we ask our rulers to wield a stern law, dealing with wrongdoing in such a way as to drive home the moral lesson that no evil deed goes unpunished. It’s a simple contract.
Civilised, law-governed societies rest on it, but our political class prefer not to fulfil it because they haven’t the moral guts to take responsibility for sending a murderer to his death. It is this gutlessness among politicians, more than anything else, that has led to the abolition of the death penalty. They won’t take the responsibility. This cannot be said often enough. The result is that responsibility is increasingly handed over to an unofficially armed police force, which shoots people without trial, appeal or the possibility of reprieve, and often gets it wrong. Watch the numbers grow.
But that’s only the beginning. If (as I fear) respect for the criminal justice system continues to dwindle especially among the abandoned honest poor, we can expect to see an increase of vigilante private ‘justice’, even lynch-mobs. What the left-liberals don’t seem to grasp is that if they strangle justice, revenge is what they will get. And then, rather too late, they will be able to tell the difference between the two. I wish there was some other way to explain it to them.
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