The Times we live in…. bring back hanging? Dear gawd….. whatever next?

#Hackgate continues with coverage of possible computer hacking in the papers this morning Yesterday Christopher Jefferies, the man ‘monstered’ in some tabloids as the suspect in the Yates murder, has won substantial damages from eight newspapers and The Lord Chief Justice has handed down a very critical judgment holding The Mirror and The Sun in contempt of court

The Guardian reports:

Earlier on Friday, Jefferies accepted substantial libel damages from eight newspapers – including the Daily Mirror and the Sun – over stories relating to his arrest.

In the contempt ruling handed down at the high court on Friday, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Owen described the Daily Mirror articles as “extreme” and “substantial risks to the course of justice”.

The judges said the Sun’s coverage of Jefferies created a “very serious risk” that any future court defence would be damaged.

“These articles [in the Sun] would have certainly justified an abuse of process argument, and although their effect is not as grave as that of two series of articles contained in the Mirror, the vilification of Mr Jefferies created a very serious risk that the preparation of his defence would be damaged,” the judges said. “At the time when this edition of the Sun was published it created substantial risks to the course of justice. It therefore constituted a contempt under the strict liability rule.”

Attorney-General Dominic Grieve led the prosecution himself, unusually, and appears, rightly, to be taking a very hard line on the issue of contempt of court in relation to press and media reporting.

And then, this morning, the political blogger Guido Fawkes has started a petition to bring back the death penalty in the United Kingdom Apart from the irony of a blogger using the name  Guido Fawkes as a nom de plume to suggest such a petition, many have observed that this will do his blog stats no end of good, given the desire of many to bring back the death penalty.  I suspect that PM Camcorderdirect, relaxing in his Tuscan lair, having spent some time de-toxifying the Tory party, will be groaning as various (and sundry) Tory MPs have come out in favour.  The Sun has taken up the story.  Is Guido re-toxifying the Tory party for his own ends to bait them, to trap Tory and other MPs into declaring their position for subsequent vilification in media and social media?

I am against the death penalty on three grounds: (a) It is a barbaric penalty, suitable only for countries living under medieval concepts of justice (b) judges and juries are not infallible and (c) it goes against the foundations of  modern humanitarian and moral precepts of justice.  Quite apart from the fact that Britain would have difficulties remaining a member of the European Union if we bring back the death penalty (Members are required to sign up to the European Convention. Protocol 6  – restriction of death penalty. Requires parties to restrict the application of the death penalty to times of war or “imminent threat of war” –  Edit: and Protocol 13 – Complete abolition of death penalty in Council of Europe states) one just needs to remember the reason why the death penalty was abolished in Britain in  1965the case of Timothy Evans being but one important reason.

They say that 70% of the population in Britain would welcome a return of the death penalty – the argument of the ‘executioneers’ is that Parliament must impose the will of the majority.  To that, I have to repeat a statement I have used before – “5 million flies eat shit, but it does not follow that shit is good for us to eat” .

I suspect (I have no empirical evidence) that few High Court judges would seek return of the death penalty and, I suspect, that few barristers, defence barristers in particular, would welcome the return.

To use a ‘populist’ argument – as a fair few twitter users did this morning… “You don’t trust MPs on taxation, expenses, governance…so why do you want to hand power to them to hang people?” Res Ipsa Loquitur?

Well… there we are.  We shall see what happens with this latest ‘wheeze’ on the part of the right wing to bring our ‘green and pleasant land’ into their vision of control.   If the death penalty does come back… I suspect that Norway with  their mature, humane and inspiring  way of handling serious issues would be a good place to live in?

I did like this sensible tweet from a labour MP… he has a point!

And this is the level of debate that those who want to hang people rely on?  Absurd…. (Me, elitist?  I think not!)

Mr Gaunt is, apparently, a columnist…

I look forward to more ‘gems of reason’ from ‘Gaunty’…. I may have a long wait?

A human rights nazi?  Now that is a concept that may give Mr Gaunt something to chew on?

My fellow blogger, friend and podcaster – David Allen Green – takes up the theme, sensibly,  in a very well reasoned blog post…… I quote his ending…“The devil may well have the best tunes; but the liberals will usually turn out to have the better arguments.”  Well worth reading.

UPDATE Sunday 31 July 2011

Unfortunately… with public opinion… law gets in the way. Guido suggested that Article 2 permitted executions.  As @ObiterJ pointed out in the comments…. Protocol 13 ECHR makes a rather important legal point which public opinion should consider

Yes.. this is right…

PLEASE READ THIS…  excellent… beautifully written with some wonderful imagery… 

Hanging’s Too Good For ‘Em

Jerry Hayes is not a fan of the new e-Petitions. Not at all.

44 thoughts on “The Times we live in…. bring back hanging? Dear gawd….. whatever next?

  1. I admit to having slightly mixed feelings with regard to the hanging debate. On the whole I’m against – although cases like West, Shipman and Brady give me pause for thought; probably more so since the tabloid appetite for ‘Exclusives’ from prisons increased over the last few years. I cannot think other than that the families of the victims are subjected to a ‘drip, drip, drip’ of sensationalist headlines, compounding their agony for as long as the perpetrators are alive.

    So I’m against, on the whole, but have little nagging thoughts…….

  2. Just when it seems my thinking is aligned with more people a slap hits the metaphorical skull.


    Its proven worldwide that capital punishment does not deter the rogue.

    I would certainly support tougher conditions, greater loss of rights and 100% detention terms.

  3. Pam – I fully understand the need for ‘revenge or justice’ from the families of those who suffer from the loss of loved ones by thugs and murderers…. the problem is horribly complex. I do, however, think that convicted murderers should be subject to a strict (and longer before parole on licence) regime of incarceration.

  4. I wasn’t rreferring to ‘revenge or justice’ for families – more a need for them not to be constantly confronted by media hysterical stories on an ongoing basis. Using Brady as an example, even after 40 years the stories crop up on a fairly regular basis as to what he’s doing in prison. Worse, I have a feeling he revels in it, as it continues his ‘control’…………

  5. Isn’t it nice that the papers which published all the sensationalist stories about Brady et al. in prison will be happily campaigning for them to be put to death 🙂
    Oh and the Guildford Four too.

  6. I have no intention of entering into debate on this latest outburst of madness. I agree with you.

    The d.p. may not be used in any European Conv. HR State even in times of war. 13th protocol – replacing 6th protocol.

  7. You’ve summed up the reasons for being against the hanging nonsense. For me, miscarriages of justice – which will always be possible, even with DA evidence – are the conclusive point. You can’t have read or seen 10 Rillington Place, or seen Rough Justice, and believe in judicial killing. We only ever talk about this because of redtopism, it seems to me, which is a strand in British life and discourse that I hope is now on the wane, and which always was absurd. I reckon a spoof campaign to bring back drawing and quartering, or trial by ordeal, could get lots of casual supporters. Money, even.

  8. What about hanging only for people who have had at least 3 previous criminal convictions similar to the tree strikes rule in US, The whole justice systems relies on criminals for their existence, Its a bit like asking a barber if you need a haircut, asking a QC if they should bring back hanging. perhaps we could do this create some risk to being a criminal, In the UK we could have a system whereby say we choose a crime and random like say Car crime. we make a system where we hang 1 out of ever ten car criminals. the one would be chosen and random.

  9. Jon Gaunt was very effective at raising awareness of dog bite attacks in Milton Keynes when my partner was a victim. I suspect that is his natural milieu

  10. I would say to every person who loudly screams for The Death Penalty to be re-instated, that you are indeed barbaric and are preaching in effect, pre-meditated murder.

    Miscarriages of justice where an innocent person is put to death is only one of the reasons we should not be baying for blood, so to speak.

    What happened to re-habilitation of offenders, or the clemency of our collective conscience where those incarcerated have families and not to mention those poor mentally challenged folks who confess to heinous crimes they did not commit.

    How would you feel if you were innocent of murder, had been put on trial and been found guilty of the crime by your peers, and there is little evidence to support your case, you would be facing death for something you didn’t do…..would you be screaming so loudly for The Death Penalty so loudly then.

    Would it end up that every crime, no matter what it i,s requires The Death Penalty, even not using yur indicators when driving, to turn into a road.

    That may seem absurd to you, but the masses have bayed for blood and they want yours because you double parked or didn’t indicate, because in their eyes you are a menace to society.

    Yes murder is a crime that repulses us all, yes the offenders should be punished, but they should also be given a chance to make amends for their crime and to change, this is why we have the legal system that we do, because we are not apes, we are not to trust our emotions and we are not altogether quite sane as a society as we should be.

    I am not a wooly headed, rose tinted glasses, wishy washy, namby pamby, I am a person who looks at the options for a society and understands the bigger picture and why some things are the way they are, so that the emotional rage of the mob does not rule over common sense.

    I for one am glad we don’t have The Death Penalty, am glad that we have the rules that do not enable the lynch mob of unreason to govern me and I am also glad that I do not believe everything that I read in the newspapers or hear on the news.

    So those of you baying for The Death Penalty to be re-instated, shame on you for preaching and condoning legal pre-meditated murder of a human being. I just hope it isn’t you in the dock when the bring The Death Penalty back.

  11. Fantastic stuff. Well said, Miriam.
    @CharonQC – I trawled through the comments in response to GF’s post on hanging and the majority were against CP which, I think, shows that the country has not totally gone to the dogs.

  12. Thank you for highlighting this disturbing petition. Some of us remember the terrible injustices of the Guildford 4 and the Birmingham 6 who would all have been well dead before they were found to have been wrongly convicted.

    And there was the tragic case of Stefan Kiszko who did 16 years for murder of Lesley Molseed before being cleared although sadly he never recovered from the trauma and died soon afterwards. The realty is that our justice system is imperfect – no justice system is perfect.

    Mistakes are made. A final penalty can never work in such a system.

    Imagine if a person could be convicted by public vote. A scary thought. In the same way nobody should be killed by the state by public opinion.

  13. If we do restore capital punishment and an innocent person is wrongfully executed I’d like a means to “redress the balance”. Obviously we can’t bring the dead back to life — medical technology hasn’t advanced that far — so we would need a different method. To this end I would like the state to maintain a list of supporters of capital punishment and if a person is wrongfully executed I would look down the list, pick out a name, and execute them. Then we would see who the genuine supporters of capital punishment are.

  14. I’ve only just seen this. Excellent post and reasoning. The Jon Gaunt Tweet did make me smile (plonker). Error-ridden proceedings aside, I would not want to be part of a society that condoned this type of barbarism (CP). Lord help us, we have enough savagery already without sanctioning it as an option of State

  15. “Quite apart from the fact that Britain would have difficulties remaining a member of the European Union if we bring back the death penalty”

    Well if thats what it takes to get out of the EU………..

    Seriously though, it is an emotive subject and much as it would appear to be unpopular, I tend to come down on the side of yes to restoration. I respect those who are against restoration as everyone is entitled to their opinion and whilst Duncan’s comment is understandable, one has to ask where a life is taken in cold blood and there is no death penalty, would he be in favour of a similar list and accept his name being on it, that I could pick from to redress the balance?

    I don;t know the stats, but of the total number of murders committed, how many have been found to be miscarriages of justice?

  16. @WitteringWitney

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion is a bit of a cop-out, isn’t it? I mean, that’s true when it comes to cheese, or favourite actress, but we’re talking about the premeditated taking of a human life by the institutions of the state here.

    And frankly, the number of miscarriages of justice is pretty much irrelevant. The question you’re asking implies “how many innocent people do you want the state to kill?” What is acceptable collateral damage to achieve the entirely illusory benefits of deterrence and cost-reduction?

    Five? Fifty? Five hundred? My answer is “zero”.

    (And we wouldn’t just have to leave the EU, we’d have to join Belarus and …. er …. no-one else outside the Council of Europe as well.)

  17. AZ: Why is my comment a ‘cop-out’? Everyone is entitled to their opinion and those that do not agree with me I do not condemn, so why do you condemn me?

    Where acts of cold-blooded murder are concerned – A life for a life……….?

    Why and how are the benefits of deterrence illusionary? What are the stats for the nbr of cold-blooded murders pre and after abolition?

    Introduction of the death penalty is contrary to the Lisbon Treaty and would entail leaving…. Oh – and the Council of Europe is an entirely different body – back to school for you, methinks……..

  18. CQC: Point is, I’ve not attempted to persuade anyone to my view – just stated an opinion and asked a few questions……… 🙂

  19. “5 million flies eat shit, but it does not follow that shit is good for us to eat”

    I prefer to put it another way. Capital punishment is popular because it seems like an easy answer to a fundamentally difficult question; why do people commit such monstrous crimes. Capital punishment seems like a full stop; a convenient means of sidestepping difficult questions about our laws and society. Hang em and be done with it.

    Of course it isn’t clear cut. Who is it acceptable to execute. Man? Woman? What age? What circumstances? Mental health issues? How do you mitigate? It was for these sorts of morally grey issues that we got rid of the accursed death sentence in the first place!

  20. I’ve got a lot of time for Jon Gaunt and Guido – but not on this issue. It’s going nowhere. Read the comments on Guido’s site and you’ll see what I mean. We’re coming into August – the silly season – come September they’ll all be rushing after the next scandal – political furore – Besides which I fear that the Press are going to have their hands full not only with phone hacking but with the far more serious offence of computer hacking. Right now I’m betting there some pretty worried folk in the Street of Shame. The local watering holes will be full of them.

    As for you Mr Charon, get off your plinth take a stroll in the real world. That means stepping out from the rarified atmosphere of your Chambers. You may find that your own Profession is not universally admired. Jon Gaunt is a bloody good journalist. Both he and Guido have stuck their necks out and taken the subsequent flack more times than you’ve had hot dinners. In a word they’ve got guts.

    Have a nice day.

    Jez @ Chichester. UK

  21. Simple solution to death penalty debate. We create a register of everyone who wants the death penalty: if you are convicted of a crime and are on the register, that is the penalty your receive. Anyone who is not on the register gets a civilised penalty.

  22. Jez – you clearly do not have much time for fact and detail. (a) I am not in Chambers – my ‘About’ section makes this clear (b) you know nothing about my life – ergo, you have no idea how many ‘hot dinners’ I have had (c) I find Guido most amusing and, indeed, assisted him on a Guy News piece some time back. That I do not agree with him on this issue – he will be more than able to cope with.

    If you had actually bothered to read even a few posts on my blog before popping in to reveal your ‘wisdom’ you would have seen that I am more than objective about the legal profession… warts and all

    Mr Gaunt does appear to have some strange views… but hey… it is a democracy.

    “Have a nice day” ? – have you been flipping burgers during a gap year?

    A bit of courtesy and reasoned argument goes a long way in ‘reasoned’ debate…. try it?

    Life is short Jez…. I just happen to believe that I do not want to be part of judicial killing no matter how horrific or provable the crime. Hopefully, if this ever gets debated… the MPs will do as they have since 1965 and kick the idea well into the long grass… to use another cliche!


  23. If criminals fear the risk of death, they are deterred, look at neighbouring states in USA where one states has concealed carry and another states does not. crime is much lower in the concealed carry states, the Hanging option is a bit like nuclear weapons , countries have it but hope they never have to use it, by having nuclear weapons the threat of mass incineration saves lives.

  24. Larry… I saw a tweet earlier today which gave the statistic that 913 prisoners on death rows in USA have been freed since 1973 – i.e. found innocent after trial. That statistic seemed very high – I have no source.. but I am looking.

    if that statistic is right.. just as well those 913 people were not executed?

    Readers may find this article of interest…

    The Death Penalty: Specific Issues
    University of Alaska

    I have now traced the website… the tweet I saw earlier was wrong. The actual figure is 139

    I have also adverted to this below

  25. Fawkes is in some danger of winning the next White Rabbit ‘Knob of the Week’ at this rate…

    His namesake spoiled the fun by dying at the hanging stage (debilitated by torture) so took all the pleasure out of the drawing and quartering bits.

    Some people….

  26. CharonQC 913 is an extremely high figure, this would imply a very high level of stupidity of each twelve person jury. a case by case investigation would be interesting to find out which part of the “system” failed. on the bright side would they be receiving compensation? also sir I wonder if you heard about the two judges in US who were being bribed by the prison industrial complex to send people to prison who would ordinarily receive non custodial sentences? are prisoners sitting n death row a large profit centre for the prison industrial complex?

  27. With you all the way on this, and have enjoyed laughing my way through @jongaunt; a return to the death penalty is madness, for various reasons. I would only add the folowing:

    Technically whomever carries out an execution is a murderer having taken the life of another human being with intent to do so. It matters not that the other person is a murderer, treasonist or otherwise, how can you expect to hold yourself as moral judge of the vile act of another when you yourself are more than willing to stoop to the same depths?

    As such it is not right that this role should be assigned to anyone other than those persons like Gaunt who always find it easy to jump on the right wing nutter bandwagon and shout for something the practice of which they have no real concept of (like the death penalty) when they dont have to carry it out themselves.

    What we should ensure therefore is that if the death penalty were to return, which is highly unlikely as there is no real call for it beyond a loony extreme right minority, those who wish for it to return must be the ones to take up the role of executioner themselves personally by way of post code lottery. If they want this form of justice, they should be prepared to dish it out themselves and to lower themselves to the very depths of feral bloodlust (which is what this all amounts to at the end of the day), to the very level of the condemned themselves and become wrath, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. To be honest, a lot of them will probably find it quite easy to do so.

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  29. Forget bringing back hanging, I want to know when we’re going to see the return of the ducking stool please, there’s thousands of witches round where I live and the council is doing nothing about it, that and I have a good line in pre-built fabricated Wicker Men, so come on politicians sort it out, IT’S PC, HEALTH AND SAFETY [INSERT OTHER HEADLINE] GONE MAD I TELLS YE.

    – Resident of Daily Mail Island

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  31. Temporarily putting aside the European Conventions – presumably the UK could leave the Council of Europe, or negotiate a new protocol replacing Protocol 13 that re-allowed judicial executions – it seems to me that the strongest argument against execution is the risk of someone being wrongly executed.

    My suggestions to mitigate this:

    1. There should be a trust, funded by voluntary subscription, that funds the defences of anyone on a capital charge. It will fund legal defences, scientific research, expert witnesses, forensic work, etc, without limit. If, at any time, the defence team seeks money from the fund and there isn’t enough in, then the charge is automatically reduced from a capital charge to a non-capital charge. Such trust shall also fund the court costs and the prosecution of capital charges, and the executions.

    2. No trial can be short-cut by a guilty plea when there is a capital charge on the table.

    3. A higher standard of proof – “proven by multiple separate means each beyond reasonable doubt” would be required for a capital charge.

    If Guido wants the death penalty bringing back, then he can pay for the defences. If there isn’t enough money in the bank, then everyone gets their sentences reduced to life imprisonment.

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  33. Just a post-script….
    Consider reading “Executioner” by Albert Pierrepoint on the mechanics of it all….and note his evidence to the Royal Commission that in his opinion not one of the many executions he had performed had discouraged so much as one murderer.
    Also “Reflections on Hanging” by Arthur Koestler.
    Was ot Pope John Paul II who was of the view that no society was so impoverished that it couldn’t afford to keep murderes in custody for life when necesary?

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