capitl_punishment_global - Copyright SAGE Publications...

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Capital punishment A global perspective ROGER HOOD All Souls College, University of Oxford Abstract This article reviews the extent to which the movement to abolish capital punishment has been successful and discusses some of the influences which have produced a remark- able increase in the number of abolitionist countries in the past two decades. It asks whether this trend has now come to an end as many countries which retain the death penalty continue to defy, for a variety of reasons, international pressure to change their laws and practices. Finally, it discusses some actions that might prove effective in over- coming these obstacles. Key Words abolition • capital punishment • death penalty • executions • human rights • international law It is always worth restating what the main objections are to capital punishment. In my view they fall under four heads: It is claimed by many abolitionists that the death penalty is a form of punishment that violates the fundamental human right to life. Thus, both the Council of Europe and the European Union have declared that ‘the death penalty has no legitimate place in the penal systems of modern civilised societies, and that its application may well be compared with torture and be seen as inhuman and degrading punishment within the meaning of Article 3 of the ECHR’ (Recommendation 1246 (1994) of the Parlia- mentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the abolition of capital punishment; see Prokosch, 1999: 23–4). A more utilitarian or practical argument is that there is no convincing evidence that the rate of murder (or any other crime threatened with the death penalty) is consist- ently lower when the death penalty is on the statute book and enforced by execu- tions. When all the circumstances surrounding the way in which capital punishment is used in democratic states and under the rule of law are taken into account, it has not proved to be a more effective deterrent than the alternative sanction of life or 331 PUNISHMENT & SOCIETY Copyright © SAGE Publications London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi. Vol 3(3): 331–354 [1462-4745(200107)3:3;331–354; 017657]
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long-term imprisonment (see Hood, 1996: 180–212; Bailey and Peterson, 1997; Peterson and Bailey, 1998). It is therefore a useless burden on the administration of a rational system of criminal justice. Third, there is the legal argument that, in countries which abide by the rule of law, adopt procedures to ensure a fair trial, restrict capital punishment only to the most egregious cases of murder and take into account mitigating as well as aggravating circumstances, capital punishment is, in practice, only inflicted in a relatively small proportion of the cases which could legally fall within its scope. Even in these circum- stances, let alone where it is more widely applied and without such safeguards, experi- ence has shown that it cannot be administered without an unacceptable degree of arbitrariness, inequity and discrimination (see, for example, Baldus et al., 1990, 1998; United States, 1990; Hood, 1996: 144–79; Baldus and Woodworth, 1998; Liebman et al., 2000).
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