Should We Bring Back the Death Penalty?

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Electric chair

The death penalty is a controversial issue the world over.

Globally, human rights organisations campaign to put an end to execution as a form of punishment, while some countries maintain that the death penalty is necessary, and has a valid place as a form of criminal justice.

Australia abolished the death penalty in 1973, although the last person to be executed in Australia was in 1967.

Internationally, Australia takes a firm stance against capital punishment, and in 2007 voted for a UN General Assembly global moratorium on the death penalty.

In spite of Australia’s public stance against the death penalty, there are those who still support capital punishment and believe there are good reasons why the death penalty should be brought back as a legal punishment for certain offences.

A number of people have made comments about the death penalty over the years and suggested that it should be reintroduced, but federal legislation was put in place in 2010 to prevent this happening.

It could still theoretically be possible to reintroduce the death penalty into the Australian states, but it would be very difficult to do so.

Arguments for the death penalty

There are a number of arguments that are often stated in favour of the death penalty and these generally centre on the idea of justice and what a just punishment is for a serious crime like murder.

Those in favour of the death penalty believe that the only fair way to punish someone for taking another person’s life is to take their life.

Deterrence is another common argument in favour of bringing back the death penalty.

It could be argued that simply having the death penalty as an option may deter people from committing serious crimes like murder, and therefore make Australia a safer country.

Similarly, it can be argued that the death penalty prevents serious criminals from reoffending which is a possibility if they are imprisoned and then later released on parole or they manage to escape.

Even if they are imprisoned without the possibility of parole, it is possible that they could pose a danger to other prison inmates and staff.

There are a number of other arguments in favour of the death penalty, including providing closure to families of victims and reducing overpopulation in the prison system.

Arguments against the death penalty

Human rights organisations like Amnesty International list a number of reasons why they believe the death penalty should be abolished for good.

The abolition of the death penalty in Australia and the subsequent support of abolition worldwide is backed up by a number of arguments.

The death penalty is the most final punishment possible, and there have been cases where people have been executed and then later found to be innocent.

As death is irreversible there is no way to make amends for a wrongful conviction, and if there is even the slightest chance of an error it means that an innocent person could end up being killed.

The methods used for execution and capital punishment are often painful and humiliating and this forms a strong argument against bringing back the death penalty.

For many who are against the death penalty, the methods used to execute people as well as the psychological effects of being on death row, sometimes for decades, are unacceptable breaches of human rights.

There is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty is effective as a deterrent.

In many countries including Canada, the murder rate has actually decreased in the years since the death penalty was abolished.

The death penalty goes against the possibility of rehabilitation and is believed by many to be an unfair consequence for those with mental or cognitive impairments.

It also costs more to execute a prisoner than to keep them in jail for life, using resources which could be put to better use elsewhere in the criminal justice system.

Given the restrictions on the re-introduction of the death penalty in Australia it is highly unlikely that it will ever be brought back, but there is no doubt the debate will continue well into the future.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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