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The Liberal Case for Restoring the Death Penalty

Category Articles
Date September 4, 2002


After years of being forced on the back foot by all this nonsense, it is time for those of us who believe in the humanitarian case for capital punishment to strike back

by Neil Clark

A particularly barbaric murder of two ten-year old girls in a small town called Soham 30 miles away from Cambridge has gripped the attention of the British Isles. The school janitor has been charged with their murder. A huge police presence is necessary to protect the vans bringing the accused and his girlfriend back and fore to court, through the angry parents incensed at what this couple have been accused of doing.

In the Times on Wednesday August 21 Neil Clark presented the cool and reasoned case for the restoration of the death penalty. This is what he

"The late Lord Denning argued that "Punishment is the way society expresses its denunciation of wrongdoing: and in order to maintain respect for the law, it is essential that the punishment inflicted for grave crimes should adequately reflect the revulsion felt by the great majority of citizens for them." These words, although spoken more than 50 years ago, have, I believe, a particular relevance in the light of recent horrific events in Soham.

"An opinion poll before the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells put public support for the restoration of capital punishment at 81 per cent. The figure would be even higher now. Yet despite their expression of "sadness" and "distress" at the Soham murders, there is no sign that Britain’s political elite, with the honourable exception of Ann Widdecombe, are even prepared to debate the issue. They refuse to do so, even though their case becomes weaker by the hour.

"The "miscarriage of justice" argument, for years the trump card of the anti-hangers, has been rendered all but obsolete by recent developments in DNA testing. DNA tests proved once and for all that James Hanratty was the A6 murderer, to the chagrin of anti-hanging campaigners who had protested his innocence for more than 40 years.

"Deprived of their trump card, the anti-hangers have been forced to rely on their secondary argument: that capital punishment is "illiberal", "barbaric" and "has no place in a civilised society". The corollary of this is, of course, that all those who support the death penalty are extremist "hangers and floggers", wanting to associate Britain with practices routinely carried out in Iran, China and Afghanistan.

"After years of being forced on the back foot by all this nonsense, it is time for those of us who believe in the humanitarian case for capital punishment to strike back. The anti-hangers cling not to liberalism (whose founding father, John Stuart Mill, was a staunch supporter of capital punishment for murder), but to an outdated and socially damaging 1960s libertinism, which places the rights of the wrongdoer above those whose rights he has infringed.

"If asked what ‘punishment they would impose on the killer(s) of Jessica and Holly, this lobby would no doubt opt for life imprisonment Yet this would be a wholly inadequate response and a far less humane alternative than the state execution of those eventually judged responsible. The killers of Jessica and Holly should be killed, not because we hold human life in low regard, but precisely because we hold it in such high regard. The execution of those who take life is the clearest possible statement from society that it regards murder as a wholly unacceptable activity, a uniquely serious crime which warrants a uniquely serious penalty.

"Aside from this argument, two other compelling reasons exist why execution of the Soham murderers would be the most humane course of action. First, the malefactors would be swiftly put out of their misery and not forced, at huge expense from the taxpayer; to live on for countless years with their inner demons and tormented souls. Secondly, and more importantly, there is the position of the victims’ families to consider. While executing their children’s killers would not bring back their loved ones, it would at least act as a catharsis, giving all concerned a better chance to move on with their lives in the belief that justice, in the best symmetrical way, had been done. The long process of healing could begin.

"Far from being "barbaric", the execution of murderers is the most civilised thing a society can do. Any other punishment simply does not accord the victim the respect he or she deserves. The idea of hanging may be unpleasant to some, but, in the words of Donald Zoll of Arizona University, "it is still infinitely less repulsive than the acts which invoke it". All true liberals and humanitarians should be calling for its restoration so that the punishment inflicted for grave crimes like the Soham murders "adequately reflect the revulsion felt by the great majority of citizens for them".

"If we really are a civilised society, nothing else will do."

NEIL CLARK. Copyright the Times.

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