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9 How. J. 3 (1954-1957)

handle is hein.journals/hjcj9 and id is 1 raw text is: 












                       NOTES OF THE YEAR
                                PAGE                                      PAGE
The Royal Commission  on Capital         Publicity for Committal Proceedings 7
  Punishment  1949-53  ..          3     The Maxwell  Report                 9
Regina  v. Wilkinson   ..    ..    6     Homosexuality               ..     10
The  Treatment of Psychopathic           An Experiment  in Freedom          10
  Offenders            ..          7     Composition of Juvenile Courts     11
THE RoYAL  COMbMSSION  ON CAPAL   PuN smENr   1949-53
    In 1948 this country came near to the total abolition of the death penalty when
the House of Commons   (by a free vote) added to the Criminal Justice Bill a clause
providing for the suspension for five years of the use of capital punishment for the
crime of murder.  The House  of Lords rejected this amendment and there was then
a hasty attempt by the Government of the day to introduce a compromise amendment
which sought to limit the imposition of the capital penalty only to certain specified
kinds of murder, generally regarded as the worst though in fact covering only those
which caused  the most public anger or anxiety. This compromise  was an  effort,
made  in about a fortnight, to find a solution to a problem that has baffled many law-
makers  and penal administrators during the last hundred years. The problem is,
how, in modem   civilised societies where humanitarian feeling is growing and belief
in the possibility of helping the offender is the basis of penal policy, to meet a well
founded concern about the continued use of the death penalty while at the same time
not too seriously upsetting a deeply ingrained belief in the effectiveness of that penalty
and a fear of what may happen in its complete absence.
    The  compromise failed to do either and though accepted in the Commons (the
Whips  were then  on) was promptly  thrown  out by the Lords;  and to save the
important Criminal Justice Bill no further discussion of the subject was attempted,
the unamended  Bill became law and the death penalty remained. The  debates left
things as they were, in law, but they had revealed a widespread concern about the
death penalty.
    In the calm atmosphere before the Commons   debate,  Letters to the Editor
in many  newspapers were in the majority favourable to abolition. On the eve of
the main  debate several responsible newspapers, including The Times, Manchester
Guardian, News  Chronicle, The Observer and weeklies such as The Spectator and
The New Statesman came out in support of the abolition, or at least of the experimental
suspension, of capital punishment.
    After the debate, a wave of sensational comment by other newspapers invited
and produced  a heavy correspondence to their editors against abolition, and public
opinion polls revealed considerable majorities in favour of keeping the death penalty.
In this atmosphere the Lords were not only able to reject the Commons decision,
but were able to do so with a very plausible air of representing and protecting public
opinion against the hasty action of the Lower House.  Nevertheless, the opinion
was expressed in the Lords, notably and powerfully by the Archbishop of Canterbury,
that, while an experimental abolition of the death penalty was  quite idle , it
would be a moral set-back to revert to the status quo; and he called for a modification
of our present law.  In these remarks he probably  represented the true state of
national feeling at that time.
    It was in this atmosphere and to try to meet this concern that the Royal Com-
mission on  Capital Punishment was  eventually appointed. The Home   Secretary,
Mr. Ede, had said:
     In both Houses there has been revealed in all parties a considerable body of
    opinion which desires that some steps should be taken which will mark a definite
    amelioration of the law relating to the death penalty. The Government welcome
    this attitude and propose to explore without delay the practical means there are
    of limiting the death penalty to certain crimes -of murder in a manner which
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