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Capital punishment. Arguments for retention and abolition

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The Parliamentary Library


Research Request Received:

Capital Punishment.

and abolition.

Arguments for retention

This Paper prepared by: Education and Welfare Group.

Date: 7 March 1973


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Arguments for retention and abolition.


"Capital punishment" (or "judicial murder" as some have called it) has been used throughout history, in many

different types of society, to express disapprOval;or revenge for socially unacceptable behaviour.

The controversy on the subject in the last three

or four hundred years has tended to reflect prevailing attitudes and social judgements on which both humanitarianism and

increasing understanding of human behaviour have been influential.

More recently, unprecedented developments in satellite communications systems have visually presented crimes of violence and brutality, almost instantaneously, to a vast number of people. Furthermore, great numbers of juveniles have been growing up in combat areas in many different parts of the world where physical conflict has been part of their normal

social environment. These two factors (and possibly other similar

factors) have been seen as pernicious influences likely to engender socio-pathic attitudes which can only be counteracted by ultimate measures such as capital punishment for offenders.

Humanitarianism may thus now find itself being replaced by

a return to more severe judgements considered likely to preserve familiar social institutions.

In Australia, the retention or abolition of the death penalty has tended to reflect the political policy of the

governing party at both States and Commonwealth level. In this century. ill hangings have taken place in Australia; most of these executions were for the crime of murder.

Arguments for the Retention of the Death Penalty

1. Death as punishment for murder is unique in its deterrent


2. Abolition of the death penalty for murder would result in an increase in murder and attacks on police officers and prison .warders.


3. Death is the appropriate penalty for a human being who has unjustifiably taken life.

4. There is no satisfactory alternative penalty for murder.

5. Public opinion requires its retention.

6. Even if abolition is desirable, the present time is

inopportune for such a serious step.

7. If murderers are not executed, people would take the law into their own hands.

8. It is kinder to the murderers themselves to execute them rather than to incarcerate them for life with Consequent psychological and physical deterioration.

9. It is too expensive to support murderers for a long period in institutions.

10. The State has the right to take extreme measures to protect itself.

11. The "lex talioris" requires "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".

Arguments for Abolition of Death Penalty

1. The chief deterrent to crime rests not in barbarous punishments but in certainty of detection and conviction.

2. Harsh punishments tend to diminish the likelihood of


3. Brutal punishments accustom the populace to brutality, and in themselves tend to create an attitude likely to result in .crimes of violence, for violence breeds violence, and brutal punishments have an infallible tendency to produce ctUelTrin the people.

4. Capital punishment is an anachronistic retention of the concept of punishment which has been replaced by the concept of reform.


5. Discoveries of the behavioural sciences should enable penal institutions to turn out better men than they receive.

6. Many murderers have been released from prison after a certain time and integrated into society satisfactorily.

7. Where the death penalty has been abolished there has been no subsequent increase in the murder rate, and consequently capital punishment cannot be supported either on grounds of expediency or ethics.

8. It should not be left to human judgment to decide that anyone is unfit to live.

9. Miscarriages of jus-Voe have taken place and such wrongs can only be righted if the innocent person is still alive.

10. The argument that retention of capital punishment is desirable for the protection of prison warders and policemen is untenable because it implies a selective value on human life and, furthermore, the argument

lacks supporting statistical evidence.

11. In Australia capital punishment has been particularly repugnant because different State laws and practices made an execution a geographic misfortune.

12. • The execution of an offender is based on the assum p tion that he is entirely responsible for his own crimes and

ignores the inherited and environmentally-acquired characteristics for which society must share responsibility. Asocial failure may be the victim of a social system in which insufficient preventive and

remedial services are available or the offender's needs.

13. The Christian ethic of love for all requires mercy for offenders.

Education and Welfare Group


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