Capital punishment

It’s 50 years since the execution of Gwynne Owen Evans and Peter Anthony Allen for the murder of John Alan West in 1964. Although the hangings made few media waves at the time, the date has since gone down in history as the date of the last executions in the UK.

Marking half a century since the deaths of the two thieves, Dr Bharat Malkani showcased his research into capital punishment at the Hay Festival this May.

Malkani, a University of Birmingham Law lecturer who teaches in the fields of human rights and criminal justice, discussed why Britain is better off without the death penalty and why he feels British efforts to promote its worldwide abolition should be supported.

Malkani says “It is telling that even though the last men to be hanged were as unequivocally guilty as the likes of Shipman, the Wests, and Adebolajo, this did not stop parliament from suspending the death penalty in 1965, permanently outlawing it for most offences in 1969, and finally abolishing it in all circumstances in 1998. So, when the urge to execute is strong, we should look to our history and recall that we can live without capital punishment.”

“Society is no less safe, and justice is still served, but without the added risk of executing an innocent person. If we had the death penalty, we would surely have the innocent blood of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four on our hands. After all, miscarriages of justice still occur – Barry George and Sam Hallam can testify to that.”

Dr Malkani also touched on Britain’s role in backing the abolition of capital punishment abroad. He believes that support of capital punishment across the world is beginning to decline, “In 1964, only 20 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes, but this figure now stands at 98.”

UN statistics suggest the five countries with the highest number of state executions annually are, in order, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States of America. Last year, the university hosted Ray Krone, the 100th death row inmate to be exonerated since the reinstatement of capital punishment in the US in 1976, after spending over a decade in prison.