Stephen Daisley Stephen Daisley

A modest proposal for the death penalty

Old Newgate Scaffold, c. 1900 (photo: Getty)

Lee Anderson has changed my mind. I’ve always been an opponent of capital punishment but the Tory deputy chairman makes an irrefutable point: ‘Nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed.’ I could make a number of objections. I could say the death penalty violates the sanctity of human life. I could say it is vulnerable to wrongful conviction and execution. I could say handing power over life and death to a state that locked us in our homes for two years and forced old and sick people to die alone is remarkably trusting, to say nothing of forgiving. 

Instead of saying any of that, I’ll say this: fine, let’s bring back the death penalty. Sure, it would be incompatible with our obligations under Protocol 13 of the ECHR and with continued membership of the Council of Europe, but I doubt Anderson would greet withdrawal from either with particular horror. Once we’ve done that, we can pass a capital murder statute defining the circumstances under which the law permits or requires the death sentence and any aggravating and mitigating factors. 

As to the method, I say we keep it traditional. Lethal drugs can be difficult and costly to obtain for intravenous injection. Execution by gas, whether hydrogen cyanide or nitrogen, carries risks to those administering the sentence. Shooting is a soldier’s death, not a criminal’s. Electrocution? At current energy prices? We’re not made of money, you know. No, a stout length of hemp will do. 

This brings us to the question of who will carry out the hangings. There’s probably still a few Pierrepoints kicking around and maybe one can be convinced to return to the family trade. Of course, in these more enlightened times, we understand more fully the psychological toll of an execution on the executioner. The state has a duty of care to its staff and it cannot risk the harm a steady diet of executions might do to a man.

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