The history of capital punishment is long, and since ancient times, people have used the death penalty to punish murderers, pedophiles, and other offenders. However, within the last century, people changed their attitudes to capital punishment. In many countries, this sentence method is abolished, while in other countries, it is still partially used. For example, by 1967, 37 States reinstated capital punishment, while in 2021, 27 States continued to use the death penalty as a fair method of a sentence (Strouse, 1987; NCSL, 2021). The United States of America, thus, is an outlier among its allies and other democracies in its use of capital punishment (DPIC, n.d.). In comparison, the Human Rights Act protects the abolition of the death penalty in the United Kingdom, where the last execution occurred in 1964 (BIHR, n.d.). Still, some people believe that capital punishment is morally right, and those who murdered someone should be murdered too. Although the death penalty has both strengths and limitations, murders and pedophiles should be kept in prison for most of their lives instead of being sentenced to death.
Arguments pro Capital Punishment
When an offender kills someone, especially a child, many people will argue that such a criminal deserves to be sentenced to death. For example, in the United States, 60% of people favor capital punishment for those “convicted of murder, including 27% who strongly favor it” (Pew Research Center, 2021). Supporters of the death penalty are sure that it is morally and legally right in cases of murder because it serves as retribution for murder, protects society, deters crime, and preserves the moral order (Strouse, 1987). To evaluate the necessity of capital punishment, one should consider the strengths of supporting arguments, which will be discussed further.
Arguments supporting capital punishment are diverse, but most support the idea that murderers, pedophiles, and terrorists do not deserve to live. Thus, replacing the death penalty with life without parole is not a harsh enough punishment for such criminals (ProCon.org, 2021). For instance, the recent case of murdering a 6-year-old child Arthur by his stepmother and father demonstrates that these adults are not worth living after such atrocity against an innocent child (Herbert, 2021). Sentencing such offenders to death will prevent other people from committing similar crimes in the future (ProCon.org, 2021). Moreover, proponents of the death penalty believe that the punishment should match the crime, so if a person murdered someone, they should be murdered too (ProCon.org, 2021). In such a way, moral balance will be achieved, and victims’ families will move on and live without fear of retribution. However, all these arguments are not strong enough to support the death sentence in the modern civilized world, where different means of punishment are available.
Arguments against Capital Punishment
In the 18th century, the number of capital crimes was high in Britain. The system of laws and punishment was called the “Bloody Code” (Knowles, 2015, p. 9). However, this system was a threat since it did not consider the severity of crimes, and people were hanged even for theft. For this reason, in 1807, the death penalty for stealing was abolished, and in 1814, “provisions that mitigated the harshness of the law of treason and attainder” were created (Knowles, 2015, p. 11). Later, the Judgement of Death Act was created (Knowles, 2015, p. 12). The Punishment of Death Act 1832 decreased the number of capital crimes significantly (Knowles, 2015, p. 12). By 1861, the Criminal Law Consolidation Acts stated that capital offences were murder, arson, high treason, and piracy with violence (Knowles, 2015, p. 13). After that, public executions ended, and people reconsider their attitudes to capital punishment. At the beginning of the 20th century, some restrictions on capital punishment were made, such as Section 103 of the Children Act 1908, which raised the execution age to 18 (Knowles, 2015, p. 18). The Infanticide Act 1922, the Sentence of Death (Expectant Mothers) Act 1931, the Homicide Act 1957 – all these Acts led to the abolition of capital punishment in Britain (Knowles, 2015, p. 19). The main reasons why it was abolished will be explained further.
The first argument against capital punishment is that every human being has the right to live. Moreover, the death penalty is murder, and people who support it are not better than those who kill. In his article, Rabbi and former Assistant Ohio Public Defender Benjamin Zober (2020) wrote, “Thou shalt not murder (Ex. 20: 13). […] When we, under the supposed color of law, deliberate, decide, and plan the purposeful extinguishing of human life, we commit murder” (ProCon.org(a), 2021). When society supports the death penalty, it supports murder in any of its manifestations, thus destroying the principles of law and morality. In contrast, when society gives a murderer a life sentence, it makes that person suffer from their sins till the end of their life in jail.
Another reason why life imprisonment should be mandatory in England is the risk of executing an innocent person. Thus, in 1923, Edith Thompson was hanged for killing her husband, but this case was controversial because there was doubt regarding her guilt (History Extra, 2018). This case contributed to the growth of campaigns for the abolition of capital punishment, leading to changes in British justice system.
Throughout history, many people have been sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. Thus, legislators, investigators, and witnesses may omit or forget something, and an individual will be judged wrongfully. An example of such a mistake is the case of Derek William Bentley, who was sentenced to death in 1953 for a crime he did not commit (Capital Punishment UK, n.d.). The 19-year-old man was found guilty even though “he neither had possessed nor fired a gun” and offered no resistance to the policeman when the latter one was injured by his friend, 16-year-old Craig (Capital Punishment UK, n.d.). Craig had a gun, and he shot the police officer, while Derek did nothing, but he was sentenced to death. Such cases are not rare, and at least “186 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges related to the wrongful convictions that had put them on death row” since 1973 (DPIC, 2021). One can see that the death penalty is not the best method of punishment because innocent people may suffer.
At the same time, one may argue that DNA testing can be used to define whether a person was guilty or not and sentence that person to death. Although this testing method is modern and seems reliable, it is easy to fabricate, which means that an innocent person may be sentenced. DNA testing will be wrong if there are not enough markers or sample materials (Shaer, 2016). As a result, a wrong person may be considered guilty and executed, while new DNA evidence may show their innocence. Therefore, DNA testing should not be used as proof for sentencing murderers and pedophiles to death.
Moreover, capital punishment is disproportionally applied to racial minorities, contributing to racial discrimination. Those who oppose death punishment claim that Black people are more likely to be sentenced to death than White people for committing the same crime (Pew Research Center, 2021). This sentence method brutalizes society, making people believe that their state is allowed to do anything. On the one hand, society blames a person for committing a horrible crime. On the other hand, it executes the same cold-blooded crime, putting that person to death. As a result, the citizens of such a country will mistrust their legal system, and the government will lose its authority.
The abolition of death penalty in Britain was important because it improved the system of laws and justice and reduced the risk of fatal mistakes made by judges and witnesses. The controversial case of Derek Bentley in 1953, as well as other similar cases, contributed to the abolition, making people doubt their legal system (Knowles, 2015). Britain has come a long way from hanging and burning people for theft and treachery to executing only for serious offences.
Having analyzed the pros and cons of the death penalty, one can conclude that murderers and pedophiles should be kept in prisons till the end of their lives. It is inappropriate to sentence criminals to death in a modern civilized world. Thus, every human being has the right to live, and the government cannot violate this right according to the Human Rights Act 1998 (Justice, 2021). Moreover, the death punishment is irreversible, and if a person is exonerated after their execution, it will be too late to change something. Therefore, life imprisonment is the most appropriate punishment for murderers and pedophiles because it takes away their freedom and social connections, strips away their identity, and makes them live with this burden till the end of their lives. Imprisonment is morally right because it does not violate the human right to life and does not lower the position of government and legislature. Since the death penalty promotes revenge and does not deter future crimes, it should be abolished. To conclude, life imprisonment should be mandatory in England for murderers and pedophiles because it is humane, legal, and prevents sentencing innocent people.
BIHR (n.d.) Abolition of the death penalty. Web.
Capital Punishment UK (n.d.) Derek William Bentley “A victim of British justice?” Web.
DPIC (2021) Innocence. Web.
Herbert, C (2021) Mum in jail for murder pays tribute to son, 6, killed by his dad and new girlfriend. Web.
History extra (2018) A brief history of capital punishment in Britain. Web.
Justice (2021) 1957-2017. Web.
Knowles, JB (2015) The abolition of the death penalty in the United Kingdom: How it happened and why it still matters. The Death Penalty Project. Web.
NCSL (2021) States and capital punishment. Web.
Pew Research Center (2021) Most Americans favour the death penalty despite concerns about its administration. Web.
ProCon.org (2021) Top 10 pro & con arguments. Web.
ProCon.org (a) (2021) Is the death penalty immoral? Web.
Shaer, M (2016) The false promise of DNA testing. The Atlantic. Web.
Strouse, E (1987) Death penalty: Issues in the debate. NCJ Number: 107644. Web.