Capital Punishment in the UK

I’m just wondering, is capital punishment still legal in the UK for Grand Treason? If so, what must you do in order for it to qualify as Grand Treason, rather than common or garden treason? Are there any other offences which still carry the death penalty?

No. We at last rid ourselves of that option in 1998 for any offence:


Section 36 abolishes the death penalty for treason offences and piracy with violence (the last remaining civilian offences for which it is still available), and substitutes in its place a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.


This provision will be implemented on 30 September 1998.’

Part of the deal for joining up to the EU was an agreement to stop the use of capital punishment. I’m not sure how the Channel islands sit with this though, they seem to have a fair degree of autonomy.
BTW the Queen is supposed to be able to order the execution of anyone she wants, its somewhere in the constitution apparantly.

there’s most likely going to be a referendum here in the coming months to remove all references to capital punishment in the Constitution and to prohibit its reintroduction under any circumstances.

Technically as the law stands capital punishment is still legal here for treason and murder of certain government officials - and I could be wrong about this, but I believe the European agreement Pushkin refers to still allows it in wartime.

It was nothing to do with joining the EU. It is IIRC due to our signing the European Convention on Human Rights or something similar which requires signatory states to move toward the abolition of capital punishment; this is nothing to do with the EU.

And additionally, the Queen has no powers except through parliament; both are bound by statute law, and statute law has abolished capital punishment as an option; even if the monarch had had residual powers of life and death over subjects, these powers could only be used if agreed by parliament, and now parliament has removed these powers even from itself.

The Channel islands have autonomy exactly as far as the British parliament allows them. Their legal position is governed by the British Monarch and she will only do what is instructed by parliament. The Isle of Man was keen to retain corporal punishment, but was forced by parliament to abolish it.

And we don’t have a constitution (well, not a formal written one, anyway).

I think that you’ll find it in the part of the British Constitution labeled ‘Alice in Wonderland’.


So it is in the Human Rights agreement and not the EU membership charter that signatories can’t have capital punishment? Is signing onto the Human Rights agreement a prerequsite to EU membership? I was going to do a post on this, as I was wondering how Turkey can be considered for EU membership when they’re still executing criminals and so on. BTW, does anyone know if the Turks have executed that PKK leader they captured a while back?

It is the Council of Europe, not the European Community, which is responsible for the European Convention of Human Rights. The United Kingdom ratified the Convention in 1952 but did not incorporate its provisions into English or Scots law until 1998. This was not a requirement of EU membership. The clause banning capital punishment was not part of the original Convention but an amendment dating from 1983.

Of course, Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed still contends Prince Philip “ordered” the execution of his son Dodi (who died with Diane) but that’s another story - or not, depending on whether you’re barking mad with grief.
While CP has been on the statute books until relatively recently, it’s not something, I suspect, most people would consider acceptable in modern society. The last executions here were in August 1964 – almost 37 years ago.

IIRC the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights would not be necessary, but many other similar strictures would be placed on the applicant countries- democracy, fair legal system, stability, ability to comply with European Law, Financial Status etc… Turkey fails at the margins on all of these issues (and also on its relationships with Greece- already a member and with a veto over future admissions). Hence, Turkey is not included in the next tranche of potential members, nor (probably) the next tranche.

I would assume that if they are still executing criminals within an unfair judicial system, they would be denied entry for that reason- though many other reasons may be cited.

And, no, they haven’t yet executed the PKK leader. I suspect that the EC has made representations to Ankara that if they go ahead and execute him, then their application will be set back considerably. This puts the government in Ankara in a fix because his execution is extremely popular.

I recall a TV programme a couple of years ago (perhaps it was a segment in Newsnight or similar) where they stated that although public opinion was over 70% in favour for capital punishment for the worst crimes, no mainstream political party was ever going to push for it.

If that is true, I’m in a bit of dilemma. I personally don’t want to see the reintroduction of CP into the UK, and would like to see it eradicated worldwide, but that’s just my viewpoint. If 70% are in favour (and it probably doesn’t matter what the actual % is as long as it’s over 50%), what price democracy?

Actually, that’s probably a bit of a hijack. Well, more of a middle-jack maybe.

This is a totally WAG, but IIRC, and if I can fit any more abbrev.s into this post, I recall something about capital punishment still applying for arson in a naval shipyard and, peculiarly, raping any of the children of the sovereign. I know it sounds kooky, but that last one is really old and the reasoning behind it was that if you had commited that crime, it would theoretically be possible to provide an heir to the throne not from the ruling family. Mind you, this was years ago in school that I learnt this so the Charter may have superseded it. Even if it hasn’t, its one of those old old laws that won’t ever be applied, like London taxi’s having to carry a bale of hay with them to feed their (now long gone) horse.

Don’t get me started about Turkey joining the EU…

Arson in royal dockyards and sleeping with the wife of the king or the prince of Wales were defined as forms of treason. They were thus covered by the 1998 abolition.

Xerxes, I almost responded to London_Calling to make the same point, but decided not to do so in case we moved into GD territory. Simply on the factual point, polling evidence usually does show that ‘most’ people in Britain would consider capital punishment to be ‘acceptable in modern society’ for certain crimes. One might regard this as evidence that the wisdom of our legislators is, after all, superior to that of the man/woman in the street.

Yeah, Pjen’s right about that one. It also leaves the loophole for flogging to be permitted in places like Stockport and Knutsford. This is known as The Cheshire Cat.

Trying to not drift to GD but feeling a response would be merited…

xerxes and APB

You might be right. Frankly, I don’t think we actually know for sure either way and my expressed opinion is only (can only) be based on the most superficial of evidence.

The problem I have with public opinion surveys is I find them almost always totally flawed: The questions are phrased to produce a desired response, the views are sought from groups and in locations, one imagines, are likely to respond in the desired fashion and the questions are asked ‘cold’, that is before any public debate has taken place (to inform general opinion) and usually in the wake of some horrifying incident – and usually by the tabloid media or by other media with it’s own agenda. Don’t like ‘em.

On APB’s point about our elected leaders knowing better than the man in the street …dangerous territory! I worry about the ease with which public opinion can be radicalised by astute manipulation for short ternm gain while at the same time I steer shy of politicians imposing idealistic agenda’s. Very tricky stuff…

However, I’d be hugely surprised if pro-CP legislation received widespread public support after a full public debate…little matters like the Birmingham 6, Guildford 4, etc, etc ad nausum might figure in the debate.

The big problem I have with this is that they are there because of, and to represent the views of, the man/woman in the street. If they do anything else, they are breaking the implicit contract they have with them, and (imho) have no right to be there. That said, neither major party makes this an election pledge, and so they can hide behind the mantle of It wasn’t in our manifesto, ergo we have no mandate.

Like I said this poses a huge dilemma for me; I’m fervently anti-CP, but fervently pro-democracy. (Not that what we or the US or similar have is a democracy, or anything like, but I’ll start a GD on that sometime in the next few days, after a bit of research to see if it’s been done to death recently…).

There are two problems here.

1/ Britain is a Representative (true) Democracy (almost/maybe/not really/sort of). People are elected to Parliament but are not mandated to vote in a particular way. If the people don’t like what they have done then they are out at the next election- if people can be bothered. Edmund Burke had a little to say about this in explaining how he voted consistently against public opinion among his constituents.

2/ One issue parties tend to be extreme (eg anti-EC, anti-immigration) and narrow and also tend to fail at the hustings. To get change on contentious issues it is necessary to convince one of the electable parties to take it on as policy, or to encourage members of several parties to vote against party policy, or to support non-mandated issues in unison.

Both of these act as a necessary ‘conservative’ with a small C tendency on rapid and ill-thought-out change. This is necessary when living in an elective dictatorship that is Britain’s political state (but that’s another issue).

IMHO it has served us fairly well:

Abortion is not a great political issue, it has been settled for in a moderate way.

Capital punishment is not a great… ditto.

Gun Control is not a great… ditto.

The one major exception is the European Union which remains a political issue, although this will probably settle over time in a similar way. Other lesser issues such as use of imprisonment, illegal drugs, actions of the criminally insane and pedophiles, socialized medicine and social welfare- are political issues, but the parliamentary system ensures that we have done nothing extreme such as precipitately leaving Europe, increasing the use of imprisonment to US levels, having a strong ‘just say no’ policy to drugs, incarcerating the crazy as felons, denying health care to the poor and disadvantaged and abandoning the socially inept, and demonizing non-predatory pedophiles and the sexually immature.

The US which has an effectively more direct form of democracy has ended up with more extreme outcomes that although following directly the desires of the vox populi, give the impression to many others outside the US world view that the US is an uncaring, judgemental, aggresive society, but that it is still a democracy.

I suppose if forced to choose, I would want more direct democracy than Britain, but less than in the US. At least I would like to see some separation of powers in Britain that would allow us to become more risk-taking with democratic demands from the populace.

Well, I guess that’s true but they are expected to vote in accordance with their party’s manifesto when such votes come up. I think my point here is that if 70% (or whatever) are in favour of CP, how exactly can that majority have their say on this issue given that none of the mainstream parties will ever contemplate adopting a pro CP stance (and of course including it as a manifesto pledge)?

Your argument that it acts as a balance against rapid and ill-thought-out change is probably correct (and I for one am glad that in this case CP is not on the agenda) BUT it does seem anti-democratic, all the same.

Actually, I think gun control is great. I appreciate that in the US it’s bound into the constitution, and insofar as the majority want to be able to own guns there (I don’t know if the majority do, BTW), good luck to them. I just wouldn’t like that here.

Not sure about this one. We’re going to have a referendum on the Euro early in the life of the next parliament the result of which I suspect is going to be seen in a wider context. We shall see.

With you 100% on this.

Pjen; sorry, didn’t read your post closely enough. You said

I misread the last bit as ‘Gun Control is not great’.

What a putz. :wally