Fifty Years Without Capital Punishment: A Source of Pride

by Ray_North on November 9, 2015

UnknownI left Court last week with the wails of a woman who had just been convicted by a jury of a fairly serious crime ringing in my ears – ‘what’s going to happen to my son,’ she screamed, referring to the disabled six year old boy whose future was now rather perilous on account of his mother being told that she was likely to go to prison for four years.

I know what many of you will think – she should have thought about that when she committed the crime.

Ok, I get that, but, and you’ll have to take what I say at face value – and I concede that I lose cases with an often depressing regularity – but, on this occasion the jury simply got it wrong. And, you’ll have to take the next thing I say at face value as well – the Judge in the case, had to make an extremely tricky call as to whether to allow a piece of evidence before the jury – and allowed it in, despite my gnashing of teeth, shouting and sulking in protest. Finally, you’ll also have to accept my hunch on this, but, I’m convinced that another jury on another day, would have acquitted the woman of the charge.

What’s my point – well, my point is this – barristers, judges, the law and juries are all fallible. Things go wrong, things don’t always go right. Sometimes innocent people get convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

And that’s the reason why I went home that night, kicked the cat and shouted at the kids before pouring myself a large Scotch was because, although things do occasionally go wrong, in this instance it is clearly a very innocent child who will be the victim of a system that is inevitably flawed.

Thankfully, I have ways of making this particular situation right again – all is not lost.

That possibility wouldn’t be available to me if this was a capital case and I had been convicted upon a dodgy decision of a judge or a lying witness. If the state had retained the right to execute those who were guilty of certain types of cases, then no amount of pardons or reviews, or re-hearings could ultimately correct the taking of someone’s life.

As a lawyer, this uncertainty, this realisation that the system doesn’t always produce the right result – is the reason why I could never appear in the Crown Court if our Criminal Justice System retained the right to kill.

As a citizen, my objections are even more impassioned – the right to live, the right to exist, goes beyond anything that can be bestowed upon us by a government or a court: it is not like the right to property, which is a privilege, or the right to a fair trial, which is an aspiration, or any other fundamental rights that are enshrined in various treaties, charters and conventions, no, the right to exist and to continue to exist transcends them all, our existence is a fact and no state or law can change or should have the power to change that.

If our existence becomes a wicked one, then, of course, the state should have the power to punish us – no one would argue against that. But, that punishment should never be the ultimate punishment, killing us.

It is no coincidence that the nations that retain capital punishment are the ones (with perhaps the exception of America which is weird in other ways) which use repression and torture as a way of enslaving their people. It is no co-incidence that these are countries were freedom and liberty are secondary and the right to life is of little consequence. These countries do not have good justice systems, these countries do not have the checks and balances that we do.

Some try to argue that it is because we have a good system of justice that we should bring back hanging, but, they don’t understand, that our justice system, just like our refusal to sanction the death penalty is one of the things that make us civilised, that makes us free, that makes living in the UK worthwhile.

I am proud of the fact that we got rid of hanging fifty years ago, I’m proud of the fact that the capital punishment is no longer supported by a majority of people because we, as a nation are strong enough to ensure that those who commit serious crime are almost always punished proportionately and progressively without hysteria or cruelty.

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