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To hang or not to hang

The taking of a life is no trivial matter. This is one reason why persons who are in favour of the death penalty are so adamant it should be carried out. But, by the same token, the State cannot lightly execute even a convicted murderer.

Attorney General John Jeremie has promised that the Government will not transgress the due process of law in seeking to execute every prisoner on Death Row. However, the Patrick Manning administration cannot escape the perception that this drastic decision has been impelled more by politics (in that the Government wants to be seen as taking a strong stance against crime) rather than considered policy (in that hanging criminals will help reduce crime). But the majority of the populace do not care what the Government’s motives are.

Still, the suddenness with which this matter has been raised has coarsened the public discourse. Citizens are now baying for blood, and are willing to ignore all legal and moral standards in order to have necks popped.

This is understandable, but not desirable. Indeed, even though the people’s rage is directed specifically against convicted killers, the leaders in society should not be comfortable when such violent emotions take hold of ordinary persons who, in the normal course of things, would not hurt a dumb animal. Therefore, in order to lend this issue the weight — the gravitas — which it properly deserves, a motion to debate the death penalty should be tabled in Parliament.

The last time this was done, as pointed out by criminologist and Independent Senator Ramesh Deosaran, was in 1989. Back then, the Prescott Commission of Inquiry was appointed to consider the status and effectiveness of the death penalty.

The death penalty was debated in the Senate but, Professor Deosaran notes, that debate did not inform the Prescott Commission’s final report, which recommended the retention of the death penalty.

In our opinion, it is high time this debate was re-opened. The Government can put the motion on the Order Paper or the Opposition can draft one for Private Members Day or the Senators can have their own debate. So far, all we have had is a few comments from the Opposition MPs, most critical of the Government for its attempt to resume hangings. But, given that the UNC hanged nine men in one weekend, they can hardly throw stones now.

Indeed, if the debate is conducted along partisan lines, it may cast more heat than light. So such a debate, in our view, should be conducted according to conscience, with both Government and Opposition agreeing to release their members from the party whip.

This kind of open debate could well redound to the benefit of politicians on both sides. The most recent NACTA poll confirmed what citizens already know — that the populace holds our MPs in considerable contempt.

However, a debate on the death penalty, which will raise philosophical, political, social and moral issues, will allow our MPs to demonstrate their true calibre as men and women who can discuss a serious issue soberly and rationally. And, if afterwards the State still decides to implement the death penalty, at least it will have shown that it has not taken the decision lightly or hastily.

Messages In This Thread

To hang or not to hang
Hanging circus
death penalty is a deterrent
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