Tuesday 28 January 2020

67 Years since Derek Bentley's execution

28 January 1953 - Wandsworth
" ... In our judgment the summing up in this case was such as to deny the appellant that fair trial which is the birthright of every British citizen' - R v Derek William Bentley (deceased) [1998] EWCA Crim 2516 - (Lord Bingham LCJ, Kennedy LJ and Collins J).

67 years ago today, at Wandsworth Prison, 18 year old Derek Bentley was hanged for the murder, on 2 November 1952, of Police Constable Sidney Miles. My post of 26 January 2013 looked at the case and the posthumous appeal (quashing Bentley's conviction).

The morbid website
British Executions lists 15 hangings in 1953.  They were followed by 17 in 1954 and 12 in 1955 (the last year with double figures). There were 33 further executions for murder in the years 1957 to 1964 when, on 13 August 1964, the final two executions took place - The Last Executions: 13 August 1964. The execution figures destroy any argument that capital punishment acted as a deterrent.

Capital punishment for murder ended in the UK (except for Northern Ireland) with the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965. Northern Ireland's last execution for murder was that of Robert McGladdery in 1961 and capital punishment was finally abolished in 1973.

Capital punishment was abolished for treason and piracy by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 section 36 and was finally expunged from the statute book by the Human Rights Act 1998.  Today, Protocol 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights bans the death penalty even in times of war and Article 1 of Protocol 13 is a convention right recognised in the Human Rights Act 1998 s1(1)(c) - see also the Human Rights Act 1998 (Amendment) Order 2004.

Work to persuade States to abolish the death penalty continues - Amnesty.

Anti-human rights voices are far from absent in the United Kingdom but attempts to take the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights ought to be resisted. The Convention has had an enormous civilising influence on domestic law including, as it now does, removal of the death penalty.

Amnesty rightly draws attention to the problems with capital punishment including its irreversibility. Nonetheless, there are still those who argue for capital punishment. They will argue that, contrary to the evidence, it is a deterrent and that DNA evidence ensures that convictions are safe but the reality is that mistakes happen and will continue to do so despite advances such as DNA - DNA Evidence can lead to wrongful convictions. In any event, DNA evidence would hardly be applicable in a case such as Derek Bentley which involved the shooting of a Police Officer on a warehouse rooftop. The factual questions in the case could not be resolved by DNA.

Whilst DNA testing will not eliminate the risk of wrongful convictions it is noteworthy that, in the USA, DNA evidence has helped to exonerate a considerable number of wrongly accused individuals.

Execution Chamber in English Prison - now removed

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