Today has seen the intensification of debate surrounding the idea of reinstating the death penalty in the United Kingdom. It defies belief that we are even entertaining this idea in a 21st century liberal democracy. Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) has been plastered over the BBC news channel today explaining that an e-petition to reinstate the death penalty for child murderers and people who kill police officers has been backed by almost 100,000 and has been pushing forward his twisted agenda with clever rhetoric, citing opinion polls which suggest c. 60% of the UK would be in favour of the return of capital punishment.
This is ludicrous. If you were to ask any human being what they think should be done with a child murderer, the emotions, the paternal and maternal instincts will propel the idea of a swift revenge, the promotion of an eye for an eye attitude in its rawest form and this therefore suggests that the polls are misleading as a full and open debate has not taken place in the public sphere, let alone a rational one. It is all well and good Mr. Staines pointing to opinion polls, but if the people polled have been mislead or provoked it really doesn‘t stand up as a real measure of public opinion. It is extremely important that we take a step back from the emotive language, the rhetoric and consider the arguments at hand.
Those in favour of the death penalty have three real arguments at hand. The first of these is deterrence. With a death penalty in place, people will be less likely to commit the worst crimes in a premeditated sense, because they have too much to lose. It seems to be a pretty comprehensive argument at its most basic level, but this is not entirely true. Deterrence is not ultimately conclusive with the introduction of capital punishment, America being a prime example, but also China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia etc. It is also important to factor in a second argument here. Jeffrey Donaldson, a DUP MP, would like to see terrorists put to death. Again at first, this seems to be an argument that would resonate well with the public. Deterrence in this case is nigh on redundant. Death penalties for terrorists result in martyrdom. Martyrdom results in idolisation. Idolisation results in more terrorists.
The second argument is one of revenge or retribution. The most important factor to consider here is that by putting a murderer to death, the State itself is promoting the use of violence, and justifying the death of a human being. If a State can kill its own people, regardless of the crime committed, this will only foster hostilities and resentment. In no liberal state should the government be allowed to put its citizens to death. It is a dangerous idea that a liberal democracy can do this. Again, America is a prime example. Again, let us factor in a second counter argument. The perpetrator has a family. Does subjecting the mother, the father, the daughter or son count as retribution? Do they also deserve the punishment?
The final, almost non, argument is one of cost. Killing a perpetrator is cheaper than rehabilitation or imprisonment. The fact that this has been thrown about on major news coverage of this issue is outrageous. Not only is it factually inaccurate (one only has to look to the constant appeals systems and “death row” in the States to see that in actual fact the process is a long, drawn out and ultimately expensive affair), but is it morally acceptable to literally put a price on life?
When the dust settles on a case, and it comes to light that an innocent man has been put to death, no amount of compensation can account for that. In no country where the death penalty is in place (or has been in place) has there not been cases where innocent people have been murdered by the State. It cannot be allowed to happen.
By all means, debate. Please do not just look at the raw emotive side that comes with a question such as “should a child murderer be allowed to live”. This sort of questioning merely scratches the surface of a difficult moral and ethical issue which ultimately will involve giving the state the power to put people down, with an entirely real risk of more innocent death.