Wednesday, 19 September 2012


The concept of tolerance appears to have two meanings. In the scientific field it refers to the margin of error inherent in any investigative study. And in the field of human interaction it refers to the ability to accept that others feel strongly about a view you oppose. 

But the meanings are the same, they both amount to a willingness to accept that your most firmly held beliefs might be wrong, and to accept that, if you are shown good enough evidence, a good enough argument, then the only reasonable response is to adapt your stance.

I have always been strongly opposed to the concept of judicial execution, the idea that some crimes can justify the calculated official killing of the perpetrator. One of the pillars of that belief has been that this sentence can not bring back the victim, and can not serve any useful purpose. 

Norman Tebbit has today written something that has rocked that pillar.

“I have kept track year by year since the death penalty was suspended then abolished of the number of people who have been killed by persons previously convicted of homicide. It has averaged three people a year. About 150 people killed because their killers have been freed to kill again.”

I never thought of it like that.


  1. The other side of that, Dr Z, is how many people were wrongfully convicted and hanged as a result. If that is 150 or more, then maybe we shouldn't do it.Tough one, esp after yesterday, which was just pure evil. Why couldn't he have just given himself up? Why kill two police officers first?

  2. Agree, a very emotive issue that can't simply be reduced to arithmetic.

  3. the a&e charge nurse20 September 2012 at 10:00

    I am not disputing Mr Tebbit's claim but a source would have been nice (given that accusations of bias are inevitably going to arise whenever a tory grandee calls for the death penalty to be reinstated).

    But let's suppose it is true, does that fact alone provide a convincing enough argument to start executing people again?

    One thing that puts me off judicial killing is the sort of countries that we would have to rub shoulders with - Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia are all doing very nice business.

    Then we have the grisly practicalities of the deed itself.
    Presumably any form of judicial killing would have to wrapped up in some form of sexy technology in order to make it palatable for squeamish western minds?

    Britain's last hangman, Albert Pierrpoint said 'I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people...The trouble with the death penalty has always been that nobody wanted it for everybody, but everybody differed about who should get off'.

    Pierrpoint dispatched a lot of men and women - it's always worth getting the opinion of someone tasked with doing the job itself, anybody at the coal face will tell you that.

  4. There are several issues being avoided here. You can't just change one variable.
    Firstly, are people are as willing to convict if the punishment is a death sentence?
    Secondly, under what grounds are convicted murderes freed? (Ie, it is the circumstance in which someone returns to society that enables them to kill again, rahter than the absence of a death penalty)
    Thirdly, does judicial killing encourage murder? Ie, if killing is seen as acceptable by the state, would there be more murders in society?
    Fourthly, has there been benefit though people not having been executed (successful rehabilitation or whatever)?
    And finally, I believe all research shows that the death sentence does not have a deterrent effect, which seems to be Tebbit's point.