Wednesday 13 August 2014

Cruel and too usual punishment

Hello readers from far-flung parts of the globe. Do they still tolerate judicial killing where you live?
13 August 1964 marked the end of that era in the Western European Archipelago WEA. Fifty years ago was our last outing for capital punishment. At 0800hrs on the morning of that day, two rather inept murderers Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were hanged simultaneously one in Liverpool and the other in Manchester. The last execution in the Republic of Ireland had occurred 10 years earlier; the Irish authorities had to borrow a hangman, Albert Pierrepoint, from the UK. Pierrepoint officiated at the end of 450 people over his 20 year career. But after he retired there were so few hangings in either country that there wasn't enough work for a full-time position. Harry Allen (no relation) who terminated Gwynne Evans was a bus driver and then a publican for his day job.  Jock Stewart the other executioner on that day in 1964 was an airline engineer.

In Ireland, The Criminal Justice Act 1964 reduced the circumstances which allowed capital punishment to treason, murder of police or prison guards and some battlefield situations for soldiers. Charles Haughey, later controversial prime minister, was the Minister of Justice at the time. There were no cases where even these limited circumstances were deemed appropriate for judicial killing and the death penalty was abolished by the Criminal Justice Act 1990. The sky hasn't fallen. There are some who claim that the rate of murder convictions has increased significantly since 1990 but I don't think that's to do with the final abolition of the death penalty.  The rate of murder held steady for 10 years after capital punishment was in practical terms abolished by the 1964 act. I think the rise to a new higher plateau  in the last 20 years is more to do with internecine feuds among Dublin and Limerick drug barons than the removal of the ultimate sanction from the statute books:
from There is also evidence that murder increases when more lethal weapons are available (NRA in USA please note!) - data from:
The blue trend line imposed on the graph by the Crime Council is only one way of interpreting the data. My crude green steps suggest that the availability of lethal weapons bleeding down from The Troubles in the 1970s caused a 3-fold increase in lethal violence.  But with fuzzy, stochastic, small-sample data it is easy to put whatever spin you fancy on that sort of information.  Capital punishment is all too common in other countries, we don't need it here.  Do you, there?

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