Let’s Just Forget the Death Penalty

23 November, 2009

The suggestion by Mr Justice Richard Johnson (the former president of the High Court) that the reintroduction of the death penalty might be “looked at” has received a frosty reception in general.

Many commentators highlighted Ireland’s international legal obligations – as a member of the European Union and the Council of Europe – to keep the death penalty off its statute book.

And of course the other great argument against the death penalty is that judicial mistakes (think of the Birmingham Six) cannot be corrected.

However the argument that I find the most convincing arose when I was challenged to do a very simple “thought experiment”  along the following lines:

Do I believe that civilized societies should engage in physical torture of convicted criminals to any extent, say in cases of particularly odious crimes?   [No I don’t]

Which is the more extreme sanction:  (a) very painful physical punishment or (b) execution?   [Has to be (b)]

So do you think a civilised society should be prepared to inflict on convicted criminals something which in impact is more profound than torture or very painful physical punishment?  [Er, no]

Methinks it would have been better for all concerned, including the legal profession and its public image, if Mr Justice Richard Johnson had held his counsel on this subject.

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