Page 4207 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 16 November 2005

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I want to talk a little about some of the justifications that are used for implementing the death penalty and how I see them. Some of these have been touched on already. One is, obviously, deterrence. That is probably the one that is put forward the most: if we have very strong penalties, including the death penalty, then we are less likely to see hideous murders and are likely to see a reduction in the crime rate. I do not think there is any evidence that that is successful.

I do not know that, when faced with the proposition that if they commit a crime they could serve the rest of their days in a prison or might be put on death row, a person is likely to necessarily think twice. For the most part, people do not necessarily think about those sorts of things, especially with serious crimes—crimes of passion, murders and other heinous crimes. I do not think it logically follows or that the evidence backs that argument up in other countries such as the United States where the death penalty is practised.

Another one that is often put forward is cost. I do not think this stacks up either, because you are obviously comparing putting someone up in a prison for 30 or 40 years as opposed to putting them to death. As we see in a civilised society, there is a significant appeals process, as there should be, which means that people on death row end up—I believe I have seen figures that show this—costing the taxpayer more than those who spend life in prison, because of the nature of their incarceration and the nature of the processes that need to be gone through in order to arrive at that final conclusion.

The third one, which has been touched on by a number of members, is punishment or revenge. We can all understand the natural human reaction of those who have suffered greatly at the hands of murderers and others, those who have had their children taken away from them by criminals, of wanting revenge and wanting to see justice meted out. Whilst that is quite an understandable human emotion—and I do not condemn those victims for feeling that way—if we respond to that, in the cold light of day, by executing criminals, that is where we have taken it a step too far. As much as we can understand how people feel in those circumstances, it does not make it appropriate for us to take the extra step and execute people.

I have touched on the other arguments against, including society needs to protect human life. If you do not buy that argument, the other argument is the irreversibility of the death penalty. I do not think there would be anyone who would suggest that they would be comfortable with executing people who are not guilty of the crimes for which they are charged and convicted. We have seen a number of cases in the United States where people on death row have had their convictions overturned through the introduction of new evidence, through the introduction, in particular, of DNA evidence, many years after their conviction. There is no doubt that many who have been put to death were not guilty of the crimes that they were convicted of.

If we, as a society, are prepared to reject some of those other arguments, there is no more compelling argument than the one that we can never be absolutely certain that, if we have a regime where the death penalty is in place, we will not put to death people who are not guilty of the crimes for which they have been convicted. That should make all of us pause in terms of any future moves in this country, in particular, to try to reintroduce the death penalty.

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