The launch of the government’s new e-petitions service has inspired Britain’s leading political blogger and libertarian Guido Fawkes to launch a campaign for a vote to restore capital punishment for “child and cop killers”.
“We shall at least see which MPs believe salus populi suprema est lex, and those that put the welfare of child killers above the wider community. Let them be counted.”
He believes such a move would have popular support, and may well be right, instinctive sympathy for murderers is in short supply.
That though should not be enough for a populist liberal or libertarian commentator to reach for the noose.
The principle problem with the death penalty is that to be just it relies on certain guilt. A post-mortem appeal is of value only to the cause of history, not the accused. Life in prison, which should mean life for those Guido is targeting, at least carries some opportunity for compensation.
To believe in the death penalty one must either believe in the infaliability of the state justice system, I suspect Guido does not. Or like the former Conservative MP for Selly Oak, Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark, a strong influence on my youthful liberalism, that:
“a few miscarriages here and there are worth the price of protecting the public” – 1989, at a speech to KES Birmingham
The few at that time were the recently released Guildford Four, wrongly convicted of 1975 pub bombings, shortly followed by the over-turning of similar convictions for the Maguire Seven and Birmingham Six.
I do not believe those lives are worth the limited comfort of knowing some genuine killers can never kill again. I certainly don’t believe the state can be entrusted to make those choices. Even modern forensic techniques have not eliminated injustices. The death penalty is a tool, open to irreversible abuse and error, not guarantor of individual liberty.
A second reason against capital punishment is deterrence. Perhaps Guido is more compassionate than I am, but I would rather a genuine child killer, like Anders Breivik, spent the rest of their long natural lives facing the consequences of their choices, rather than getting off on early release. Child killers in particular face potential terrors and threats in prison that can see them spend long periods in solitary confinement with only the ghosts of their evil for company. That should be a far worse deterrent than a six foot drop.
Where I would concede change in the current system is that those with no hope of release, should after a minimum sentence be allowed to request assisted suicide. It should though, as with assisted dying for the terminally ill, be their choice and humane. Surely that would be a better reform campaign for a lover of freedom than a returning powers to the state to act as the lynch mob of last resort.