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Cheers - AE

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Off with their heads!

Yesterday JuliaM blogged about the horrific murder of an old man by a gang of crackheads. She makes the point that the CCTV system the victim, Reginald Baker, may have helped the police identify and convict his killers but did square root of bugger all to save the poor man's life. She makes the point that the semi-human scumbags responsible tortured him and beat him with his own walking stick before going off for an evening drink, leaving Reginald Baker to die. She makes the point that they were work averse, drug addicted, scrounging filth who'd probably never taken responsibility for anything and perhaps had never heard (or listened to?) any suggestion that they should. I'm not going to argue with JuliaM about any of those things, but there's one thing I can't agree with:
...having supported them throughout their short lives of idle pointlessness, why should the taxpayer now continue to stump up the money to clothe, feed and cage them?

After all, even the bleeding hearts can’t object that there’s that ‘shadow of doubt’ here over whether the death penalty is warranted.

Certainly, none over whether the right men are in the dock…
Ah. This would be my cue to raise my hand and say that I don't consider myself a bleeding heart but I don't agree that the death penalty is warranted. I'll quote my own comment in reply to JuliaM.
JuliaM, I have to disagree on one point. I wouldn't shed a tear if I heard that they all carked it inside... [but] I'm very uncomfortable with the state killing prisoners on our behalf. ...they've fucked it up in the past and executed people that really shouldn't have been, and bringing back capital punishment would virtually guarantee that it would happen again. And that's just wrongful executions through ineptitude. With the fuckwits in Westminster as an example of the political class would you trust them to have the death penalty back and not abuse it in the future? There's some worry about the potential for abuse with the Civil Contingencies Act and the Legislative And Regulatory Reform Act, and the bastards have already begun by misusing RIPA and the Proceeds Of Crime Act. ... would you really want the power of life and death to be put back in the hands of government? I wouldn't, and that means if I want to be sure I'm not legally murdered by the state in the future I have to support protecting the even most vile criminals from the noose now.

That doesn't mean I'm a bleeding heart. I don't give a fuck about their oomin rights, I wouldn't lose sleep over rock breaking or making rego plates, I'd object to taxpayers funding help to get off their drug of choice and would rather they went cold turkey, I don't want them to have games or toys or fun distractions, I'd give them 5 minutes of personal/social phone calls per month ... [etc]. In fact the only "nice" thing I think should be on offer is the opportunity to reform themselves, which should be the only alternative to three decades of mind numbing and dreary routine. I'm all for real punishment and treating this shitebags like the animals they are, but I'd be really worried if the state began wasting them for my convenience and safety.

First they came for the crackheads and street thugs, etc, etc.
I meant all of the second paragraph, so I hope that shows my opposition to capital punishment is coming from a not-at-all-bleeding-and-not-remotely-heart-shaped point of view. I didn't go into it there but I have some sympathy for the argument that state sanctioned killing of unarmed and helpless prisoners makes our society little better than the scum we're ushering into the beyond, but my biggest concern is that I don't fucking trust governments, full stop, end of. And on that basis the last thing power I want them to have is the power of life and death, even over the worst kind of criminals and even when their conviction is beyond doubt. JuliaM responded:
I take your point about the possibility of wrongful executions (though with strict safeguards on the cases applicable, and the increasing use of DNA, I think that could be massively improved), but it would be the judiciary, and more importantly, the jury, that would have the say, not the government.

I quite like the 'penalty phase' idea they use in the States, where the sentence is 'seperate' from the capital aspect. I think this would be a useful safeguard, rather than applying the previous 'blanket sentence'.

Of course, it's all moot anyway, since we are in the EU!
Although I did leave a reply I think this needs a bit more space than normal for a blog comment.

Taking the last point first, I don't think the EU makes it moot. For one thing JuliaM may be in the EU, but I'm not (though I expect I'm probably still technically a fucking EU citizen, and if so may I say that it doesn't thrill me in the slightest) and the arguments apply just as much to Australia as to the UK or the EU. Then there are the rumours going around that the EU Constitution Lisbon Treaty has, either by design or by accident, provision for allowing capital punishment again in the future. Now that might very well be utter bollocks spread by anti-EU types to try to boost the No votes in referenda, and I wouldn't be surprised. But the UK (a) hasn't had a referendum (b) seems highly unlikely to get one, and (c) is in any case about as likely to vote Yes as Gordon Brown is to get lucky with Joanna Lumley on the PM's desk in 10 Downing Street the weekend after the next general election, so why spread the rumours in the UK? That really is moot. But assuming they are bollocks (and they probably are) given the highly undemocratic nature of the European project does anyone trust the bastards not to move the goalposts later on? Look how they're forcing the Constitu.. er, I mean the Lisbon Treaty on the people of Europe in general and the UK in particular. The current lot may all seem to be softcock abolitionists who like to think fluffy thoughts about criminals, and for all I know they are, but they're certainly happy to inflict whatever they see as the right laws on people without their consent. It only takes one complete bastard with the will to do it and political prisoners could be facing the needle, or perhaps worse.

Next, the wrongful execution bit. As I said above, and again in reply to JuliaM, I think that's a smaller concern. I agree with her that DNA and some strict evidential standards would probably keep that to a minimum and avoid another Derek Bentley or Ruth Ellis, but is that enough? Even if minimum meant 99.99% reliable convictions about once every eight years or so some poor bastard is going to get sentenced to death for a crime they didn't do, and I imagine knowing that mistakes are kept to a minimum will seem pretty cold comfort.

However, I worry more about the possibility of a gradual increase in the number and type of crimes considered capital offences. Just say for the sake of argument that a future government in an unspecified and financially fucked country had a huge problem with the prison population. Might there be a conversation like this:
Minister: Can we release a few more of the minor criminals early?
Advisor: Sorry Minister, that's political suicide.
Minister: Alright, what about speeding up the death penalty procedures and executing more of the worst criminals? Surely that would be popular?
Advisor: Well, we could certainly streamline the process a little more.
Minister: Only a little?
Advisor: To be honest Minister, after removing the right to a final appeal for clemency to the Queen there's no that much scope left beyond processing the paperwork more quickly.
Minister: Right, do that then. Anything else? Could we extend execution to other serious crimes?
Advisor: Such as, Minister?
Minister: Well, what have we got now? Murder, obviously.
Advisor: Yes, and terrorism, rape and sexual assault of minors.
Minister: Okay, then we just need to know what the papers are baying for blood over at the moment. You take The Daily Shriek and I'll look through the Gnash Of The Teeth.
Advisor: People seem very concerned about drugs again Minister.
Minister: Okay, shall we say any second offence of dealing Class A?
Advisor: I can draft it this afternoon, Minister.
And then who's to say it won't be Class B next, and then motorists who've run over and killed someone because they were stoned or pissed when they drove the car? As I said, first they came for the crackheads and street thugs. Now I realize that this hypothetical example is actually going in the opposite direction from actual experience and that here and in the UK capital punishment was actually used less and less, and the circumstances in which someone could expect a death sentence tended to shrink rather than expand. Still, with the habit of governments in general to expand their powers and introduce more and more new laws, and to be extremely reluctant to reverse either, I'm not particularly inclined to encourage the cunts to take back one power they have given up. Especially not this one.

Okay, what about safeguards like the US style penalty phase that JuliaM mentioned? Well, yeah, it sounds good at first, and it's certainly better than nothing. But it seems to me that it opens up the possibility of two people found guilty of almost identical crimes receiving wildly different sentences because two different juries decided their sentences. If two similar criminals committed two similar killings one might get life if the penalty phase jury had a few jurors who just couldn't look a man in the eye and condemn them to death, while the other one might get a jury of retired Majors who have been fed up with yobs ruining the village and are happy with the idea of permanently getting rid of at least one. Wave bye bye to the principle that we're all equal in the eyes of the law. Yes, okay, judges can be pretty inconsistent with their sentencing as it is, but currently no one is put to death because of it.* The other problem is that jurors are only human and are open to be swayed by clever lawyers or by the circumstances of the particular case. They may be more inclined to return a death sentence than is really appropriate in the circumstances. For that matter if I was of the hang-'em-high persuasion I might well be concerned that the juries might sometimes be insufficiently inclined to sentence someone to death, which would blow the one and only chance the state has of wasting the scumbag in the dock. See? Cuts both ways, and while that means it ought to come out around even that's hardly a good basis for law. We might just as well go back to fitting up likely looking crims because even if innocent we all know they'd be guilty of something. Another problem with juries, though not really penalty phase juries I suspect, is that the possibility of a death sentence being handed down may put some jurors off finding the accused guilty in the first place. That's not so good if they really are guilty, but it remains a possibility even in the face of very solid evidence. For similar reasons I imagine there'd be fewer guilty pleas if execution is even a remote possibility for the accused - there'd be no incentive to give victims or relatives closure and every reason to extend their worthless life as much as possible by opting for the longest and most drawn out trial they and their lawyer can achieve.

Perhaps other safeguards could be used in addition or instead of penalty juries, but I keep coming back to the fact that the government make the law and a government with a healthy majority composed mostly of obedient, uncritical and unthinking lobby fodder can easily change any safeguards to suit itself if more executions were desired. The UK the government might not even need the lobby fodder. Blair and Brown have got some shocking legislation through Parliament (such as this and this among others), and although I'm not a lawyer from where I'm sitting it appears that it allows them to do pretty much whatever the fuck they like with no more than a Minister's say so. I'm hardly the first to suggest the resemblance to a certain toothbrush-mustached nutjob's Enabling Act, and even though I don't believe Blair would have used it, or that Brown or Cameron will, the fact that the legislation exists and no-one seems terribly interested in repealing it should ring ear-splitting alarm bells. With that in mind do we really want to give them back the power of life and death? Over my dead body, because by giving the bastards that power it might become literally true anyway. No, not even here in Oz where the government lacks some of the more scary powers of the UK junta government (and has an arguably stronger check on it's power in the shape of the Senate than the House of Lords provides in Britain).

So while I think there's something in the usual objections about possible miscarriages of justice and the lowering of society to the level of the murderers we execute, what my main objection boils down to is, as I said in my original comment on JuliaM's blog, that if I want to be sure that I can't be legally murdered by a future government then I have to support protecting even the most vile criminals from the noose (or whatever) in the present.

*Coming at it from the other direction I recognize that deaths can and do occur where a killer has been released only to kill again. Many won't of course. Crimes of passion are sad but unless prompted by mental illness (in which case indefinite care in a secure hospital obviously makes more sense to me than "care in the community") seem unlikely to be the work of a repeat offender. Nor are crimes of passion deterred by the death penalty - think red balls in Minority Report. But going back to the killer who is let out and kills again the solution needn't be execution when you can as easily chuck the key away. More expensive, yes, but it also offers the opportunity for genuine reformation. That may be small but would we be civilized if we wrote someone off as utterly worthless and beyond redemption? Hmmm, probably a whole new argument to blog about on another day.


Anonymous said...

There is still a chance to vote online about a readable EU Constitution at .

Vote YES or NO to Free Europe Constitution !

JuliaM said...

Good post! ;)

I think we'll have to agree to disagree though.

While I wouldn't want to see it back for every murder (I prefer the 'special circumstances' option of murders carried out with particular savagery or on vulnerable victims, etc, that they use in most states in the US), I'd welcome its return for some of the most egregious crimes we've had recently.

"It only takes one complete bastard with the will to do it and political prisoners could be facing the needle, or perhaps worse."

On the subject of the EU's future, should that person appear and seize control, I think we'd have a lot more to worry about than the increase in scope of the death penalty!

And I doubt that they would need to kill political prisoners, when they have so many more effective ways of shutting them up. No-one with any sense creates martyrs if he (or she) can avoid it...

However, I'd be happy (well, not unhappy, anyway!) to forego the return of the DP if what we were promised on its abolition really came true, and life meant life.

Not a cushy life either.

Angry Exile said...

I think we'll have to agree to disagree though.

Yeah, I expected that we'd have to agree to differ, capital punishment being the contentious issue it is. I've gone from strongly pro to strongly anti over the course of 15 years or so, largely for the reasons I've given.

While I wouldn't want to see it back for every murder (I prefer the 'special circumstances' option of murders carried out with particular savagery or on vulnerable victims, etc, that they use in most states in the US), I'd welcome its return for some of the most egregious crimes we've had recently.

And that's been pretty much my position in the past. But now, as I've said, I wouldn't trust it to stop there. It's related to other issues: detention without trial, presumption of innocence, habeas corpus, trial by jury, and so on and so on. The same argument can and is put forward to suspend or alter or quietly do away with some of those for, as you put it, some of the most egregious crimes.

On the subject of the EU's future, should that person appear and seize control, I think we'd have a lot more to worry about than the increase in scope of the death penalty!

I think probably we already have plenty to worry about. But in that situation the stakes would rise to a while new level. And don't put too much faith in the fear of martyrs being much of a disincentive because it's never bothered any dictator or junta I can think of.

However, I'd be happy (well, not unhappy, anyway!) to forego the return of the DP if what we were promised on its abolition really came true, and life meant life.

Agreed, especially with it not being cushy. And of course that's roughly where we are (apart from the cushy part). Myra Hindley died inside, Ian Brady is almost certainly going to, one Kray twin did and the other was only let out when he was nearly at death's door anyway. Granted, a little more of that wouldn't go amiss. But I've heard that prison officers aren't that keen on life meaning life as the worst offenders have less incentive to co-operate and little to lose by playing up. You can't add time to a literal life sentence, and nor can you offer the prospect of early release for good behaviour. I think that with very few exceptions it's worth offering the hope of eventual release subject to some pretty fucking convincing evidence of total reformation and rehabilitation. Not sure what but inspired by Catch 22 I'd suggest that a prisoner who is so remorseful that they say they deserve to be locked up forever and refuse to be paroled is probably sufficiently reformed. Of course that'd mean not actually letting them out because even they agree that prison is where they belong... I did say it was a bit Catch 22 ;-)

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