Stephen Lawrence, Dobson, Norris And Why The Death Penalty Should Never Be Reinstated

With Stephen Lawrence's killers having been found guilty, some people have been calling for the re-introduction of the death penalty. Here's why that should never happen...
Avatar:
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
135
With Stephen Lawrence's killers having been found guilty, some people have been calling for the re-introduction of the death penalty. Here's why that should never happen...

404

“And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” – Deuteronomy 19:16

E-petitions allowing us, the public, to prompt what parliament should debate on our behalf is a good thing. It could be a great thing. A revolutionary thing. It’s sad, then, that the first campaign to hit the headlines is a petition calling for the return of the death penalty.

Over 40 of the first 200 petitions published this week asked for capital punishment to be reinstated – garnering well over 6,000 supporters in a matter of hours. Any petition reaching more than 100,000 signatures could result in a full debate in the House of Commons. The last execution in the UK took place in 1964, before the death penalty was “permanently” abolished in 1969.

So why, in 2011, are certain sections of society once again demanding an eye for an eye?

There is the argument that the taxpayer should not foot the £40,000 per year bill for imprisoning an individual that has committed crimes so depraved, they are far beyond the comprehension of every right-thinking person. It's a valid point. But the cost of executing a human being today would be infinitely more.

The death penalty may conjure up macabre images of lumbering executioners, face veiled with a black hood, balancing the scales of justice from the gallows, the guillotine or with one bloody swing of his axe. But in the 21st century, capital punishment could only exist as the result of a long, drawn-out series of hearings, pre-trials, trials, retrials, appeals, counter-appeals and protests.

The woman defending herself from domestic violence. The homeowner protecting his family from an intruder. Children that kill. Should we execute each and every last one of them as we would a child murderer or cop killer?

There are extensive Legal Aid costs to consider. Who is going to carry out the execution and where? How much will it cost to train them and how expensive is the equipment needed? There are no logical answers to these questions that don't run into millions – and ultimately billions – of pounds. It costs more to kill a person than it does to keep them in prison for life. (New Jersey, US, abolished the death penalty in 2007. In the 23 years prior to its abolition it cost taxpayers a quarter of a billion dollars and did not execute a single soul.)

Capital punishment should only be reintroduced for child murders and police killers, is another argument. Crimes against children are despicable, of course they are, but does the family of a murdered child or police officer feel more grief than the relatives of a murdered adult? What about an elderly murder victim? Do we place less value on a person's life the older they get or the less authority they have?

Alternatively, we could operate a uniform system of capital punishment: if you kill, you die – an eye for an eye in its purist form. “Capital punishment should be restored for all crimes of murder without exception,” one petition states.

The woman defending herself from domestic violence. The homeowner protecting his family from an intruder. Children that kill. Should we execute each and every last one of them as we would a child murderer or cop killer?

There are cases built on circumstantial evidence to consider. Unlike a prison sentence, it is impossible to truly overturn the death penalty should the accused later be found innocent – a cleared name is little consolation to a dead man. If this happened, would the executor, the judge or the jury then face the death penalty for murdering an innocent person? Incompetent legal representation, prejudiced judges and juries, bungled evidence or lazy police work: these are all factors that must be assessed as they are irrevocable under capital punishment.

Murder is the unlawful, premeditated killing of one human being by another. That is exactly what the death penalty is. It would represent a huge regression in social evolution.

The death penalty – State sanctioned murder – is barbaric and wrong. It is financially, legally, and practically wrong. But much, much more than that: it is morally wrong. My opening quote, taken form Deuteronomy 19:16, makes for chilling reading. How can certain sections of our society really want a return to this deplorable eye for an eye mentality? Using murder as a deterrent against murder makes about as much sense as fighting house fires with flamethrowers.

I'm all for the power to deliver stricter sentences – life meaning life, should the crime deserve it. But all crime is deeply complex and nuanced, and therefore deserving of comparable punishments. I don't want to perpetuate the meme that “prison is like a hotel, these days” – I have no firsthand experience of our prison system – but I believe anything over and above basic human rights runs contrary to the fundamental principles of incarceration for serious crimes. Education, rehabilitation, labour, exercise: yes. Games consoles, televisions, DVDs, iPods: no.

At the time of writing, those against the death penalty outweighed those for it – by about 8,500 to 6,000 signatures. But, harrowingly, over 100,000 readers of The Sun voted in favour of capital punishment in 2008 – enough, in theory, to take the debate to the House of Common.

Murder is the unlawful, premeditated killing of one human being by another. That is exactly what the death penalty is. It would represent a huge regression in our sociocultural evolution. A disgusting anachronism, conceivable only in the bloodthirsty, fictitious world of Deuteronomy and other religious texts. Or as something that took place long before I was born; or within cruel, inhumane societies in far-off lands. Not here, and certainly not now.

“An-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye-for-an-eye...” Mahatma Gandhi said, “ends in making everybody blind."

Click here for more stories about Life

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook