Monday, 1 August 2011

Capital Punishment.

In society, well, a civilised society at least, when defining the power of the state, there is an important starting point, an ideal - The state should not harm it's citizens. It is essential to highlight the most important part of that sentence - Ideal. Due to the nature of society, at some point the state will have to move away from that ideal in order to maintain law & order and ensure security of the state itself. What is crucial to maintaining the civilised status is that each step away from the ideal is only undertaken when absolutely essential - when there is no other option left.

The above paragraph has to preface any discussion about Capital Punishment. Quite simply, there is nothing worse the state can do to an individual, it is the ultimate action and is the very definition of a state harming it's citizens. It is as far removed from the ideal as you can possibly get. So how on earth do we get to the point where it is even considered?

Well, the right wing blogger, Guido Fawkes has decided to launch an online campaign to get the matter discussed in Parliament with a view to having Capital Punishment reintroduced for child murderers and police murderers. Whilst I'm sure that Guido does actually support the death penalty I think his motives are more to do with a) his anti EU Agenda - we would have to leave the EU to have the death penalty, and b) his love of publicity.

Unfortunately, whatever his motives, Guido has certainly sparked debate because this is, and will be for some time, an interesting political issue that many people on both sides of the argument are furiously passionate about. For my own part, I can think of very little that I oppose more than capital punishment. Let's take a moment to debunk the most common arguments in favour of capital punishment.

It works as a deterrent to the offender.
It most certainly deters the one who is executed doesn't it? That can't be denied. However, it is not the only way of preventing an individual re offending is it? That's the point - when it comes to deterring the offender, there is another way - life in prison. That can't be argued or debated, the facts are clear: there is another way to stop the offender re offending, thus this reason is void.

It works as a deterrent to others.
Well, there is actually no creditable evidence that supports this view. Consider that the majority of murders are crimes of passion. Is it really reasonable to believe that the offender, at the point of committing the offence would hold back because, whilst a lifetime behind bars is an acceptable risk, the death sentence is not? For those rare murders undertaken for some other advantage to the individual, surely those offending believe they won't get caught and therefore the potential sentence is irrelevant? However, even if you dispute that, there are of course, no shortage of crime statistics, particularly from America, which show that there is no tangible deterrent from the death penalty.

It's cheaper than keeping offenders in prison.
Ignore, if you can, the idea that money should be considered when deciding whether the state should kill someone and focus on the evidence, again, that actually, capital punishment is incredibly costly. Well, at least it is in America. It may not be in China or Saudi Arabia but there is a very good reason for that - they don't feel the need for an exhaustive legal process to ensure, beyond ANY doubt that the offender did indeed commit the offence and surely, there is no other standard to be considered when handing out a death sentence?

After that, all that is left is a desire for vengeance or closure. Neither of those are good enough reasons. As unpleasant as it may seem, even the most vile of murderers still retains the right to life and the state cannot break that right.

There are also political anomalies in play. Support for the death penalty is high among right wingers & libertarians but if you examine the death penalty rationally then it is against the principles that those partuicular political groups hold dear - that of minimal government. Minimal government doesn't just mean small government, it means the government only taking decisions or carrying out actions when there is no other suitable alternative. When it comes to capital punishment, there clearly is.

Despite attempts by some to portray our society as morally bankrupt, we are not. We do not currently have an epidemic of brutal child murders. The murder of a policemen is, and always has been rare in mainland UK and now thankfully, despite the best efforts of backward thinking groups, it is rare in Northern Ireland. This isn't necessarily down to capital punishment being abolished but it does show that it is irrelevant in the for law and order.

Ultimately, the question of capital punishment always comes down to this (at least it does for me): we, as a society have a duty to condemn violence. A state that has violence written in to it's law cannot do so with any authority.

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