Davis is wrong about the death penalty

David Davis thinks he’s got his finger on the pulse. He thinks the opinion polls support his enthusiasm for the judicial execution of serial killers (how do you qualify, by the way? Two killings? Ten?). He’s wrong. He’s wrong not because the pollsters are lying or mistaken when they report that 62% of those surveyed would support the death penalty for child killers but because when it comes to it – when it comes to the actual decision – we won’t go through with it.

We won’t go through with it because we have no stomach for the series of secondary decisions we’re going to have to make after we’ve made the big one. Will we put a death row in every gaol? Or have a single, national one? How will we kill the killers? Lethal injection (this is how Davis would like to do it) or electrocution? Hanging even? Will we fast-track the condemned through the system or permit them their constitutional right to appeal after appeal, prolonging this most dispiriting public process for decades? Will judges who object to State killing be permitted to bow out of capital trials? How about jurors, barristers, court officials? (the legal process alone will yield dozens of equally tough questions).

Will we televise the executions, permit relatives and journalists to watch or will they be conducted in secret? What will we do about the statistically inevitable mistakes? Posthumous pardons? Compensation? Perhaps hardest of all, who will do it? Will we advertise for an executioner (and will the successful applicant be allowed a column in The Daily Mail)? Should we elect a fresh executioner for each killing (it could be like jury service)? Or maybe we could empanel a networked firing squad and do it via the web (‘1 thousand clicks are required to confirm execution. One randomly-selected click will deliver the lethal dose’).

When the time comes – if it comes – for us to decide one way or the other, the task of opponents of the death penalty is to remind us continually that these decisions are ours to make and that they will have real, lethal consequences for decades into the future.

I’m pretty sure we don’t have it in us to make these profoundly unpalatable choices – we’ll back off and we won’t join the shrinking club of nations that kill offenders. I’m also hopeful that none of us could really bear to turn Britain into an inevitably darker and uglier place just to promote the shoddy ambitions of a wannabe Prime Minister.

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