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Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Mallon : No, because I am short of time.
It is argued that the death penalty is a deterrent. We know the figures for the north of Ireland, and the Home Secretary referred to the figures for the United States. We should also examine carefully the figures for Japan.
One salutary lesson to be learnt from my own country was best put into words by the poet William Butler Yeats :
"All changed, changed utterly :
A terrible beauty is born."
He wrote that after the 1916 occupation of Dublin's general post office by a small number of men. That did not
Column 55change all ; but the subsequent execution of those men led to the start of the Irish war of independence, and republican violence continues to this very day.
The whole genesis of violent republicanism, of the IRA, of the violence that we have seen through every decade, has stemmed not from the action of the people who took took over the GPO in 1916 but from their execution. From their execution came the motivation of martyrdom, and it created such an element in our lives. We are still paying for it to this very day. Rather than being a deterrent, those executions were the springboard and motivation for a system of violence that has continued to this very day. We have seen it as recently as last weekend. I make that point in global terms, in Irish terms, because it is worth making. Nowhere can I find any other example that best encapsulates the fact that the theory of deterrence simply does not stand up.
I shall finish with a point that was made by the former Member for Castle Point, Sir Bernard Braine, who was then Father of the House and is now in another place. It struck me deeply because of his sincerity. I had listened to him a number of times on this issue. On 24 October 1989, in The Guardian , he said :
"My immediate reaction to Guildford"--
the Guildford Four--
"was that this puts the kibosh on capital punishment I was in favour of its retention. It took this case to tell me, Look. Pause. Reflect. What if they hanged innocent people?' "
Is not that exactly what the Secretary of State was saying in his speech today? I hold that same view. I hold it on the basis from which I started, from a moral point of view, because I believe that a judicially sanctioned execution is an inherently immoral action. It is a barbaric, brutalising and degrading form of punishment which is contrary to the respect and value for human life and for the law.
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : Not having been in the House during the 1987-92 Parliament, I last had the opportunity to express my views on capital punishment as the Member for Nottingham, North in the early 1980s. Nottingham always took a robust attitude to capital punishment. The side outside the old Shire hall, where, until the mid 19th century, public hangings used to take place, is still marked today.
I was quite clear in my mind why I believed in capital punishment and why I voted for it on that occasion. My preference was for a return to the Homicide Act 1957, which created two categories of capital and non-capital murder. They distinguished between domestic or spontaneous murder and the cold, calculating acts of violence ; of murder in the furtherance of theft ; murder by shooting or explosion--although I recognise the point that was made by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) in the Ruth Ellis case ; murder to prevent arrest ; murder of a policeman ; and the murder of a prison officer. I believe that if capital punishment were available in those circumstances, there is a possibility that such a crime may be deterred. Before setting out on a burglary or robbery, a villain might think twice before picking up a weapon if he knew that its use could invoke the death sentence.
Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn : Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Ottaway : I will not give way, because of time.
Column 56It is impossible to prove, but my judgment in 1983 was that that was the case, and it still is. Capital punishment is an instant and awesome end, and any man sentenced to it would willingly commute it to a lesser sentence. For violent, premeditated murder, however, it is surely a just and proper punishment.
After the murder of Sergeant Robertson in Croydon last week, my instincts remain the same. He was a police officer in the performance of his duty going to protect the citizens of Croydon at the New Addington sub post office. He represented the thin blue line between anarchy and a civilised society. He paid the ultimate price for our civilised society. His murderers committed a crime so sudden and abominable that they should suffer a capital penalty. It is in my mind, and the minds of many, a justified sentence.
Yet, with all these instincts urging me on, I much regret that I cannot support the new clause today. Colleagues might ask me why, when I have done so before : what has changed? The answer is quite simply that my confidence in the criminal justice system is shaken. There have been isolated cases in which convictions for murder have been overturned or found unsafe. But in the late 1980s, the trickle turned to a flood : the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the Tottenham Three, Stefan Kiszko, Jacqueline Fletcher, Judith Ward, the Darvells, the UDR Four, the Cardiff Three, the Taylor sisters, and the pardon limited to sentence of Derek Bentley from Croydon-- an area which seems to attract controversy.
That is not a random list. It is an avalanche of doubt. Sitting on the top of the Old Bailey are the scales of justice, which generations have grown up to trust. The scales are tarnished. Stories of discredited witnesses, tampered evidence and incompetent experts have shaken the criminal justice system to its very roots. In the light of that, I could not send a convicted man to his death until the uncertainty is removed.
There are some out there who will say, "Yes, but we know that they did it." That is not good enough. Whatever the crime, whatever the nature of suspicion, British justice requires that those accused are found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Where doubt exists, it is right to free those whose convictions were unsafe.
Mrs. Peacock : Will my hon. Friend give way?
It is now incumbent on the Government to ensure that every step is taken to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system to the point that, in future, I may be able to be free to exercise my judgment without questioning the system itself.
Finally, we hear all too often of those who have been convicted of murder, serve a life sentence, are released after 12 years or so and commit murder again. That must never be allowed to happen. Although you, Mr. Lofthouse, have not thought it appropriate to select the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), myself and others, I believe that life should mean life. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to review that policy.
Mr. Mullin : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), because I accept that it requires some courage in the Conservative party to announce one's conversion on such an issue. The hon. Gentleman is one of a number of Conservative Members
Column 57who have changed their views. Some of them have expressed to me privately the view that since the big miscarriages of justice of the mid-1970s, they could not in all conscience continue to vote for the death penalty. The Home Secretary has said tonight that that is his position. I should like to think that that would influence some of his colleagues.
I do not mean to trivialise the debate in any way, but in a sense this subject has now become an internal dispute in the Conservative party. Outside the Conservative party, with the possible exception of one Scottish nationalist, no one else is willing any longer to vote for the death penalty.
Mrs. Peacock : I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that many of the hundreds of letters that I have received have not come from Conservative party supporters.
Mr. Mullin : I readily acknowledge that and will address that point- -indeed, I did during my intervention in the hon. Lady's speech.
The death penalty, and hanging people in particular, is a peculiarly British obsession. It is about time that we rid ourselves of it. It is not shared by other European countries. In my view, it is a sickness. We have debated the subject endlessly. Even in the few years that I have been a Member of Parliament, it has come up on four or five occasions. I think that the Home Secretary said that it has come up on 13 occasions since the death penalty was abolished. I hope that this will be the last time.
Some Conservative Members are persuaded of the logic of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Croydon, South and the Home Secretary, but lack the courage to stand up to their own party on the issue. I hope that they will have the courage to come out. [Interruption.] I know it to be the case because I have had it explained to me by Conservative Members, one of whom much resented the fact that some of his hon. Friends had been content to vote for the death penalty in the knowledge that it would never get through the House, relying on Conservative Members who, like him, had had the courage to stand up against their party and speak out against the death penalty.
Mr. Hawkins : Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on the members of his own party who would love to vote in favour of the reintroduction of capital punishment but would suffer a witch hunt from other members of the Labour party if they did so?
Mr. Mullin : I have been in the House for nearly seven years and I honestly do not know one Labour Member who falls into that category. If the hon. Gentleman does, perhaps he will take the matter up with the individual concerned.
The bottom line, already referred to in many speeches, is mistakes. We made mistakes when we executed people : Evans, Hanratty and Bentley have been mentioned,and it is now acknowledged that we made a large number of serious mistakes more recently. People profess to care for the reputation of the British legal system. If the British legal system has had a rough time in the past two years, imagine what the effect would have been worldwide if, in the Birmingham Six case, we had taken delivery of six coffins instead of six people who were able to resume what remained of their lives.
Column 58There is no doubt that three of the four people involved in the Guildford case would have hanged. There is no doubt that Judith Ward would have hanged ; no doubt, too, that most of those concerned with her conviction--and I believe that this was also true in the Guildford case--knew from the outset that she was innocent ; and that many others realised shortly afterwards. The Stefan Kiszko case has been mentioned, and the hon. Member for Croydon, South mentioned the Broadwater Farm case--a tragic case involving the death of a police officer to which the new clause would certainly have applied. I predict that the next people to come out of the front door of the Old Bailey will be the three survivors of the four convicted of murdering the newspaper boy, Carl Bridgewater, in 1977. They are certainly innocent and I am confident that, in due course, that case will collapse.
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Mullin : The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) will forgive me, but he has not been attending to debate. I give way to the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn), who has.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : As probably the only Member of the House who has obtained two royal pardons for wrong convictions of murder, I understand exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and he is correct. It is suggested that the death penalty is a deterrent. Seventy people a year are convicted of murder in England while 7,000 die on the roads. Does that fact deter people from driving?
Mr. Mullin : That is an interesting point, which I intend to address later. Having looked a large number of people in the eye during their final moment, Pierrepoint, the last hangman, concluded in his memoirs that the death penalty did not consitute a deterrent. Those who think that it is a deterrent ought to read his book.
Mr. Riddick : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Mullin : Forgive me, but I will not.
Mr. Riddick : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Mullin : I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that I do not intend to give way to him.
It is sometimes argued that the more heinous the crime, the more we need the death penalty to deal with it. The trouble is that the more heinous the crime--as with the various IRA atrocities in the mid-1970s--the greater the hysteria that accompanies it. And the greater the hysteria, the more likely it is that we will make mistakes.
I noted the Home Secretary's remarks with particular interest. He is not a man who is soft on the law and order issue. But he is the man whose signature would have to appear on the death warrant in the event of our reintroducing capital punishment. Chuter Ede, the Labour Home Secretary whose signature appeared on the death warrant of Timothy Evans, had to live the rest of his life with the knowledge that he had sent an innocent man to the gallows. I might add that, when it became clear that that was what had happened, he turned into an abolitionist overnight. It is very easy to talk in general terms and to bay
Column 59for blood, but when it comes to particular cases and particular individuals with particular responsibilities, it is altogether different.
I note with interest that today's newspapers quote a number of prison governors as saying that they would resign if called upon to supervise the reintroduction of the death penalty. Moreover, a number of chief constables --one of them the chief constable of the West Midlands police--have said that it is inevitable that innocent people would be hanged. No one knows that better than the West Midlands police.
It is easy to say that one is against the death penalty because mistakes are made. I want to make it clear that I am against it under all circumstances. Above all, I am against it because of the hideous barbarity involved. When one sentences someone to death judicially, one sets a clock ticking. One announces that, at eight o'clock in the morning on such and such a day, one or two months' hence--and sometimes the clock is turned back to nought and started again--one will send that person to his death. That person, all his relatives and friends and everyone associated with him have to live in the knowledge that that clock is ticking, day after day, week after week, month after month.
Mr. Nigel Evans : What about the victims?
Mr. Mullin : I shall deal with that point, too.
The American system has been mentioned. In America, those sentenced to death have to live an average of 10 to 15 years in those circumstances while the legal system plays with their lives. They have death camps in Florida and Texas containing hundreds of people who wait up to 15 years. A man in California was brought into the gas chamber and out again three times during the last hour of his life. As Amnesty International remarked at the time, that was torture to the Nth degree. The death penalty has not made the blindest bit of difference in the United States. The murder rate continues to increase and guns and drugs are involved. Killing people is not the answer ; one must address the causes--the guns and drugs.
The fundamental reason for opposing the death penalty under all circumstances is the hideous barbarity associated with it. A media circus inevitably develops. It developed in the 1950s and early 1960s--I remember it well--and it would be worse today. Media interest affects the relatives of the person concerned and of the victims. I do not want to see that day return--and I know that prison governors, judges and many senior policemen whom I know share my view. Public opinion is often mentioned, as though we are all in this for votes--as though what we are about is ensuring that we get a few cheap votes.
Mr. Mullin : I accept that that is not the hon. Lady's position. Public opinion is notoriously volatile. Everything depends on when a poll is taken. If it is taken the day after a particularly heinous murder, it will produce an answer saying that most people are in favour of the death penalty ; if it is taken the day after the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four have been released, it will produce the opposite result.
Column 60An hon. Member asked, "What about the victims?" Among the hundreds of letters that I have received was a moving letter from a man whose daughter had been murdered--I wish that I had it with me so that I could read it to the Committee--and who gave the reasons why he would not support the death penalty despite the tragedy that he had suffered.
I note with satisfaction that the death penalty is attracting support from a diminishing number of Conservative Members. It will get a diminished number of votes tonight, and I hope that we shall lay it to rest once and for all.
Sir Ivan Lawrence : Since the previous debate, 1,412 people have been murdered in England and Wales. Do we care? Does it matter if the murders go on? Ought we to be doing something more about it? For two and a half hours, we have moralised, we have agonised, we have quoted and we have given all sorts of reasons why it is dangerous, difficult and harsh to make the kind of judgment that is necessary before anybody is hanged. However, 1,412 people have died. The question must be this : are we deterring enough people from murder with the penalty of life imprisonment that we currently impose or is there something more that we ought to be doing to try to save innocent lives? I have heard all the experience put forward by my hon. and learned Friends. I have been at the Bar for 32 years. In the early days of my practice, we still had capital punishment and I was agonised by the question whether it deterred anybody. I used to ask all the heavy villains : "Did it deter you? Did it stop you taking guns and weapons when you burgled anyone's house?" The heavy villains used to tell me that it did and that they were deterred.
When I moved the motion for the restoration of capital punishment in the House in December 1975, the leader of the IRA threatened that if we passed it he would take the life of three British soldiers for every member of the IRA who was hanged. Did he do that because capital punishment was not a deterrent? He did that because he knew perfectly well that if the House agreed to the restoration of capital punishment, it would deter IRA members. [Interruption.]
During all the years that I have been in the House, the view of the great public, the people whom we represent, has never changed. It has always been that the restoration of capital punishment would save the lives of innocent people. When we debate the subject, we receive more and more letters and we get more and more support from our constituents who ask us for goodness' sake to bring back capital punishment. They say that too many people are dying because too many killers are not deterred. Are they all wrong? I hear all the views of the experts, but who are the better experts on the motivation of ordinary people than the people whom we represent? They have as much right to give their opinions about what ordinary people would be deterred from. If the deterrence of a sentence does not work, if the threat of the consequences does not work, why on earth are we punishing people for any criminal offence at all? Common sense indicates that if one raises the penalty to death, some people--not everyone, but a few people--will hesitate and decide not to kill. And the person they will hesitate about and decide not to kill is an innocent person who will live.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn rose --
Sir Ivan Lawrence : My hon. and learned Friend has made many interventions. Perhaps I may be allowed a moment to make my comments.
I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was right to say that only four of the 76 prisoners released from prison since the abolition of capital punishment have killed again and yet would have been hanged. I doubt it. There is something wrong with the analysis of the figures. I do not suppose for a moment that it was only four. Even if the number of those convicted again for murder and murder only was 16, it shows that capital punishment would have saved that number of innocent lives. The issue for us tonight is deterrence. We may all feel horrified at the idea of capital punishment, but we must not be so fearful if it is going to save lives. That is the test. People say that there is no evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent. I have said that, to me, it was sufficient evidence that heavy villians were deterred, that the terrorist leaders were deterred and that ordinary people would feel deterred. We have heard some nonsense spoken about the figures in the United States. Research conducted in Chicago university, at Yale university and at Harvard university has shown that the restoration of capital punishment has deterred. In Texas, in Florida, in Louisiana and in Georgia there has been a resultant fall in the murder rate. Since the Supreme Court in the United States said that it was perfectly proper for states to provide for capital punishment, some 23 states that have reactivated it have seen a decline in the murder rate while only 10 of those states that have reinstituted capital punishment have not seen a decline. At a rate of two to one, that seems to be strong statistical evidence of the trend that capital punishment deters some people.
But the whole point about all the statistics is that they do not address the one issue that matters. The statistics will show whether there has been a decline in the murder rate or not, but they will not show the number of people who had a gun in their hand or were about to take a gun in their hand and decided not to because they would have suffered the penalty of death if they had killed.
Mr. Alex Carlile : Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Sir Ivan Lawrence : I am not able to give way because there are too many hon. Members who want to speak and I do not want to stop them. In Japan, in the United States and in other civilised countries throughout the world, people have accepted that capital punishment is a deterrent. In 50 countries, there has even been an extension of capital punishment beyond the bounds of murder because the people in those countries believe that it has a deterrent effect.
Mr. Alex Carlile rose--
Sir Ivan Lawrence : There is no doubt that life imprisonment, which we have been imposing as a substitute, has not worked. In the five years up to the abolition of capital punishment, there were 209 murders a year. There have been 670 a year since abolition--twice as many. I also take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett- Bowman) that, but for the brilliance of the medical profession, there would have been many more murders.
Column 62In 1972, 2,000 crimes were committed with guns and weapons. Today, 13,500 such crimes are committed--a sixfold increase because there is no deterrent of capital punishment to frighten people away from using guns when they go out. In 24 years before 1965, 14 police officers were killed. In the past 30 years, 54 police officers have been killed--a fourfold increase. If nothing else is clear, it is clear that life imprisonment does not deter.
One problem is that we agonise, we care, we hate the idea of signing any document that signs away a person's life. Nevertheless, if it means that we are able to save lives
Mr. Alex Carlile : What about miscarriages of justice?
Sir Ivan Lawrence : I am coming to that. If it means that we shall save innocent lives, all that agonising must cease because our duty is to save lives.
Most of the debate has concerned the miscarriages of justice. Some cases were no doubt miscarriages of justice, some only may have been, and yet those convicted have been released. However, a number of things have happened since most of those miscarriages of justice took place. No police officer can falsify a confession any longer because interviews are tape recorded. [Interruption.] The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 gives the judge power to say that he is not satisfied with the way in which the evidence has been adduced and that he will not admit it. Judges now have to break down for the juries the various parts of a piece of evidence that they have heard which throws any doubt at all on an identification. We may now use DNA, which identifies whether somebody is or is not the person who wore the cap--the murderer. As a result of ESDA--the electro-static document analysis procedure--one can discover whether police officers may have falsified a confession, which was the basic reason why so many of those cases resulted in miscarriages of justice and acquittals.
Those very substantial changes make it much less likely than ever before that a jury will convict of murder if it has the slightest doubt. If there were a death penalty, plenty of juries that now convict of murder would not convict of murder if there were an element of doubt. With relation to the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six or any other number of people and miscarriages of justice, I must make the rather obvious point that if we had had capital punishment perhaps there would have been no bombings in Guildford or Birmingham or some of the other terrible offences that have been committed. My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) has tabled a proposal which bears close analysis. The proposal was not introduced in 1990, for I remember mentioning it in 1975. It should not be beyond the wit of man to have a tribunal which, after sentence of death has been passed, looks at all the circumstances of the offender and of the offence, including evidence that would not have been admissible in a court of law, to see whether there is any reason why the man or woman should not die. The question must be whether there is any reasonable reason why a person should not die. Let us consider what such a tribunal would have discovered. Such a tribunal would have heard that Timothy Evans had the mental age of a 12-year-old child and that person would not have been hanged. Such a tribunal-- [Interruption.] It is because Opposition Members do not
Column 63listen when people explain things on this side of the argument that, year after year, they accept the old rubbish and innocent people continue to be killed as a result.
Hanratty could have run the defence of diminished responsibility. Of course, he could not have run both that and an alibi at the trial. However, a tribunal could have decided that he should not be hanged because, if he had run the defence of diminished responsibility, it would have succeeded. We could examine the list of miscarriages of justice and discover that no one for whom anything could have been said, even a reasonably short time after the trial, would have been hanged. The people who would hang would be those for whom nothing could be said in their favour. Those people are the undoubted and vilest of killers. It would be a deterrent, even though, as a result of the tribunal, some would not die, because people would not know in advance whether things would be said that would save their lives. The House must think again. We shall go on thinking, year after year, because that is what the people outside who sent us to this place expect of us. They know that so long as the killing and murdering continue and precious little attempt is made to introduce a deterrent sentence, society is indeed sick. We must return to a situation in which society once again has respect for the rule of law. It had more respect for the rule of law when there was a perimeter beyond which people could not go because they knew that if they took someone's life, they would die.
I thank my colleagues who have tabled the new clauses. They will have my support because, for all our tears, at the end of the day I believe that capital punishment would save innocent lives.
Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North) : It is always good to follow the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). He was certainly on good form today. But if he is arguing that all the technological developments to which he referred could guarantee no miscarriages of justice, his argument is at best untenable and at worst ridiculous.
The suggestion that there would have been no Birmingham or Guildford pub bombings and no terrorism if the death penalty had been in existence is a defiance of history and a defiance of the situation in many countries where there is both terrorism and a death penalty. The hon. and learned Gentleman set out so many so-called safeguards and exceptions that we would end up without the deterrence which he suggested is required. For that reason, I entirely disagree with his argument.
I must declare an interest as I am an adviser to the Police Federation. The Police Federation would endorse the view of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), but I do not. I speak on behalf of my constituents. It is my experience that, while the majority of police officers no doubt support the Police Federation's view, many take an alternative view. In many ways, the views of police officers reflect the differences of opinion on the issue among the general population.
As we have seen with the Home Secretary today, many people have in recent years taken a different view of the death penalty--and quite rightly so. People are beginning to understand that the person who may end up as the innocent victim of a miscarriage of justice might be their son, daughter, husband, wife or relative. That innocent
Column 64person might be hanged. That is why today a right-wing Conservative Home Secretary will join Opposition Members and many Conservative Members in saying that the risk of a mistake in respect of the death penalty is too great. The risk of a miscarriage of justice is too great.
Mr. Stephen : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. O'Brien : If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way as I am under a strict injunction from Mr. Morris to be brief.
Let me remind the Committee of those people who would be dead if the death penalty had not been abolished. Let us think about the number of people who would otherwise be dead. Those people include Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerry Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, Billy Power, John Walker, Engin Raghip, Mark Braithwaite, Jacqueline Fletcher, Judith Ward, Paul Darvell, Wayne Darvell, Neil Latimer, Noel Bell, Winston Allen, James Hegan, Stephen Miller, Tony Paris, Yusef Abdullahi, Michelle and Lisa Taylor, Kiranjit Aluwhalia and, of course, Stefan Kiszko, who unfortunately died, but who at least had some time before his death during which he was able to enjoy the freedom that he should have had throughout his life.
Many people are worried about convictions achieved on the basis of admissions and false scientific evidence. We cannot accept a position where we must apologise to a corpse or to the family of a person who has been unjustly hanged. That is not an acceptable way to proceed. Several hon. Members rose--
Mr. O'Brien : I have already said that I will not give way. Anyone who favours hanging must be prepared to see innocent people hanged. We cannot guarantee that our system is satisfactorily safe. The idea that there could be extra safeguards, either by way of a special tribunal or the Court of Appeal, is not acceptable. Besides reducing the idea of deterrence by creating many exceptions, there would not be a proper safeguard. In respect of many cases, the Court of Appeal had heard those cases and rejected the appeals. It took 16 years to discover that Stefan Kiszko had not committed the murder for which he was convicted. Surely we are not proposing that we should wait 16 years to allow scientific evidence to present itself to ascertain innocence. That is not acceptable.
Conservative Members who favour capital punishment despite the risks of miscarriage of justice do so on the basis of a deterrent factor which outweighs the risks of a miscarriage of justice. I have had experience of representing people who have been accused of murder. I doubt whether there is deterrence in hanging. Even if there is, such miscarriages of justice that we have seen considerably outweigh the deterrence of hanging.
The vast majority of murder cases are domestic murders or murders that were committed in the heat of passion. In those circumstances, the rational thought that would go into an analysis of hanging would not deter crime. In a sense, the life sentence for murder is a deterrent. We know that murders have not increased at the rate at which other offences have increased. The argument that life imprisonment is not a deterrent is not acceptable or tenable; otherwise, when we abolished hanging, murder would have increased disproportionately to other crime. It has not. It has increased at a slower rate than that of other
Column 65crime. On that basis, hanging was not the unique deterrent that others have suggested. Therefore, one has to fall back on the idea that the risk of a miscarriage of justice is much too great and that it far outweighs the deterrent argument, which itself is very questionable.
Let no one suggest that Opposition Members who oppose hanging are less concerned about, the murder of police officers. The senior officer who was the wife of the officer who was murdered some years ago and whose killer returned to custody last week is based in my constituency, and she is obviously concerned, as I am, about the outcome of the case. I am also very concerned about, and send my condolences to, the family of Sergeant Derek Robertson.
The murder of an individual is always appalling, but the killing of a police officer is an assault on the state and on a person who puts his life on the line for the community. That should merit a greater punishment--a longer prison sentence--but not a distinct type of punishment--not a death penalty--to separate it from all others. Surely the killing of one police officer does not merit a different punishment from that for the killing of 21 people in the Birmingham pub bombings. That is not a legitimate or tenable distinction. Unless we have a way of distinguishing cases that would result in the death penalty and killings which would not, we cannot allow the death penalty to be resuscitated. Will some people be found more guilty beyond reasonable doubt than others? Again, that is not acceptable. We cannot argue that if Bentley should be hanged the terrorists who blew up the Birmingham pub should not.
Is not it ironic that legislation that came about following a royal commission that was set up in the wake of a series of mistakes in our criminal justice system should be used to attempt to restore a death penalty which would simply compound the very mistakes, the very miscarriages of justice and the very undermining of our criminal justice system that that royal commission made recommendations to stop?