Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The last executions - 13th August 1964.

50 years ago today the last executions took place in England.  Gwynne Evans (then aged 24) and Peter Allen (21) suffered the ultimate punishment then available to the law - see Manchester Evening News 12th August.  Evans and Allen were convicted in June 1964 at Manchester Assizes before Ashworth J and a jury - Wikipedia describes the case.  Their appeal before the Court of Criminal Appeal was dismissed in July 1964.

Last year saw the 60th anniversary of the execution of Derek William Bentley - (here is my post of 26th January 2013).  The Homicide Act 1957 introduced the partial defence of diminished responsibility which, if successfully pleaded, reduces the conviction to one of manslaughter and this reduced the number of murder convictions  The use of the death penalty was further limited by the 1957 Act introducing what proved to be a most  unsatisfactory distinction between capital murder and non-capital murder.  One of the capital categories was a murder 'done in the course of or furtherance of theft' (Homicide Act 1957 s5) and this applied to Evans and Allen.  It was not until the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 1965 that capital punishment for murder was abolished.   (See the 1965 Act as originally enacted and note section 4 requiring affirmative resolutions in Parliament in order to keep the Act in force after 31st July 1970.  The required resolutions were passed in  December 1969).

Even after 1965,

capital punishment continued to be available in law for a number of offences though it was never applied.  It was abolished for treason and piracy by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 s.36 and finally disappeared for certain military offences with the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998.   The offence of Arson in Her Majesty's Dockyards, which attracted the death penalty, disappeared with the Criminal Damage Act 1971.  Protocol 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights bans the death penalty (including in times of war) and no derogation or reservation is permitted.

The death penalty remains, in my opinion, far too prevalent in other nations - Death Penalty Information Centre.  The historical use of the death penalty in this country continues to have a strange fascination but the actual evidence that it acted as a deterrent is, at best, exceptionally nebulous - on this, see the article in The Guardian 13th August.  It is sometimes argued that it is "just punishment" for certain crimes and, in support of that view, extreme cases tend to be referred to such as the execution of war criminals or those convicted of exceptionally heinous murders.  Of course, that leads into the difficult territory of precisely which crimes should attract the ultimate penalty.  For my part, I do not wish to see it return.

A further very notable historical case was that of Timothy Evans executed in 1950 for the murder of his daughter Geraldine (born 1948).  Evans had not committed the murder and it is now generally thought that the actual killer was John Christie who was later convicted for the murder of his own wife (Ethel).  Christie went to the gallows on 15th July 1953.  The trial of Timothy Evans lasted just 3 days and the jury took a mere 40 minutes to reach a verdict.  In 1966, Timothy Evans received a posthumous pardon.  In Westlake v Criminal Cases Review Commission [2004] EWHC 2779 (Admin) the High Court dismissed a judicial review of the CCRC's decision not to refer the conviction to the Court of Appeal.  In giving judgment, Collins J said that the free pardon was intended to and has made clear that Timothy Evans should be regarded as having been wrongly convicted.

An ITV documentary entitled EXECUTED may be viewed over the next few weeks.

Wikipedia - Capital Punishment in the United Kingdom

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