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Crime and PunishmentAbolition of Capital punishment Return to the main page
Case Study 3 - Why was capital punishment abolished? Task Glossary

Throughout history the final punishment had always been the death penalty. As the other Case-Studies in this Gallery show, there was a move in the 20th century away from the tough punishments of earlier periods. Gradually pressure built up to abolish capital punishment, although the debate was fiercely contested, with campaigns being waged on both sides. Those who wanted to retain capital punishment argued that:

  • it had a deterrent effect,
  • criminals would be more likely to carry guns if there was no danger of their being hanged for killing,
  • life imprisonment was worse,
  • it was a way of showing society's disgust at this crime.

Abolitionists argued that:

  • other countries had abolished capital punishment without a noticeable increase in crime,
  • mistakes were sometimes made and the wrong person executed,
  • most murders happen on the spur of the moment, so capital punishment is not a deterrent,
  • execution is barbaric.

Votes on abolition were held in Parliament at various times. Each time M.P.s voted to keep the death penalty, but less convincingly. Finally in 1957 hanging was abolished for all except murdering a police officer, killing by shooting or while resisting arrest. In 1965 it was abolished altogether.

Case Studies
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