Archive for the ‘Death penalty’ Category


December 16th is the 50th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in the UK

At 8am on 13 August 1964, the last execution took place in the United Kingdom.  Two men: Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were separately executed in Manchester and Liverpool.  The death penalty for murder was abolished in the following year 1965 and made permanent on 16 December 1969.  Northern Ireland followed in 1973 and the last hanging offence – treason – was abolished in 1998.  In the current climate however, the question has to be asked, how secure is this decision and will it last another 50 years without being repealed?

Many will remember some of the impassioned debates which took place at the time with concerns it would lead to a rise in the murder rate.  Indeed, the vicar of All Saints, Clapton in London, said at the time it would be a ‘wholesale license to kill’.  The police wanted to be armed if the bill was passed.  Despite its abolition, the homicide rate in the UK has remained reasonable static over many years.  The figures for the last 3 years for example are 721 (2016/17); 728 (2017/18) and 701 (2018/19).  (Source: Statistica).  

Amnesty is opposed the use of the death penalty for six reasons:

  1.  It is the ultimate denial of human rights and is contrary to the articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the right to life and the right not to be tortured or subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
  2.  It is irreversible.  Mistakes are made and cannot be rectified.
  3.  It does not deter.  This perhaps is the strongest case made for its continued use yet many studies show it simply is not true.  Violent crime rates are not significantly worse in US states which use the penalty compared to those who do not.
  4.  It is often used with unfair justice systems.  Confessions sometimes forcibly extracted are a feature.  Clive Stafford Smith’s book on a particular case in Florida is instructive.
  5.  It is often used in a discriminatory way and you are more likely to be executed if you are a member of a minority group or if you suffer from mental health problems.  It is also racially biased.
  6.  It is used as a political tool to execute people who are seen as a threat to the authorities.

World wide

There has been a decrease in the number of countries using the death penalty according the 2018 Amnesty Report on the subject.  690 people were executed in 2018 in 20 countries representing a 31% decrease on the previous year.  However, these statistics exclude China – the world’s largest executioner – but where the number of executions, which is known to be vast, is a state secret.  Belarus is the only country in Europe still to have the penalty and executed at least 4 people in 2018.

The five biggest countries which still execute its citizens are: China; Iran; Saudi Arabia; Viet Nam and Iraq.  78% of all executions take place in the last four countries in this list (with the caveat that the China figure is unknown).  It is possible China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together.

The Salisbury group monitors cases around the world and produces a monthly report.

United Kingdom

There has been a noticeable increase in rhetoric around harsher prison sentences and a desire to lock more people up for longer.  The current UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel has made a number of speeches and wants to see longer sentences, more prisoners kept in prisons for longer and generally supports a tougher approach to criminal justice.  She has seemed to support the death penalty although she denies that this is so.  Nevertheless, she is a powerful and insistent supporter of tougher sentencing.

A Parliamentary Enquiry has warned that UK citizens are at risk of the death penalty in the US – or of being sent to Guantanamo Bay – under a fast-track data sharing deal signed by the Home Secretary, as the result of an agreement reached with Washington last month, when the details were kept secret. It is said that the deal will give police and intelligence agencies speedy access to electronic communications sent by terrorists, serious crime gangs and white-collar criminals.   The House of Lords Committee has criticised the ‘asymmetric’ nature of the arrangement, which gives the US far greater powers to target UK citizens than vice-versa, and claims have been made that the UK will not be able to obtain ‘credible assurances’ that extradited suspects will not face execution. (Source: The Independent.)

Among the public YouGov polls reveal a mixed desire for restoring the penalty which depends a lot on what type of murder is involved.  So for multiple murders for example, 57% are in favour and 33% against.  Murder of a child shows 53% for and 31% against.  The ‘all cases of murder’ figure is 45% against and 34% for.

For crime generally in the words of YouGov ‘Voters are united: criminals should be more harshly punished.’  In the general population, 70% believe that sentences are not harsh enough which rises to 87% for Conservative supporters.  Further analysis for gender, age, location and social grade reveals only small differences.  The major difference is between Remain and Leave voters in the Referendum to leave the European Union (Brexit).  The statistic for all cases of murder shows that 64% of Remain supporters oppose the death penalty in contrast to 30% of Leave supporters – around double.  The support figures are even more marked with 51% of Leave supporters in favour of the death penalty and only 19% of Remainers.

It seems therefore that in the UK population, vengeful policies for dealing with criminality and for reintroducing the death penalty for some types of murder are still quite strong.  A conservative MP and former minister, John Hayes, asked the government last year to reintroduce the penalty.

Government policy has long been that we will not grant extradition to foreign countries if there is a risk of the individual being executed.  This policy appeared to be weakened last year by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid:

Sajid Javid, […] has caused controversy in September by indicating that the British government is prepared to waive its long-standing opposition to the use of capital punishment by foreign governments, in the case of two alleged jihadi terrorists originally from Britain.   He has agreed to provide the authorities in the United States with intelligence evidence to assist in the trials of the two men without asking for the usual assurances that any convictions would not lead to the death penalty being imposed.  Human rights champions have widely condemned this decision as compromising Britain’s principled opposition to capital punishment and as setting a dangerous precedent.  Others, however, claim the two men involved deserve whatever they get.  So was the Home Secretary’s decision right or wrong?  YouGov 24 July 2018

Taken together, with members of the public wanting the return of the death penalty for several types of murder and an increase in harsher sentences; a weakening in the policy of not supporting the extradition to countries which execute people, and a desire to abolish the Human Rights Act, the reintroduction of the death penalty – although unlikely – may not be impossible in this country.  With the Conservative government returned last week with an increased majority, things are by no means certain. That it survives as a wish in many people’s minds is a worrying fact.

Sources: YouGov; Statistica; The Independent; Guardian, Parliament.co.uk, Amnesty International


We always welcome new members and the best thing is to keep an eye on this site or on Facebook – Salisburyai – and make yourself known at an event we are organising.


We are pleased to attach our latest monthly death penalty report compiled by group member Lesley.  In addition to matters around the world, we mention worries about the Conservative government, if, as expected, they assume power on Friday after the election.  The present Home Secretary, Priti Patel is committed to toughening sentencing and has said she wishes to see the reintroduction of the penalty in the UK.  She denies that this is the case.  We quote survey statistics to show that it is still a desired outcome for many people, especially for those who voted leave in the EU Referendum.

Note as ever that China is the world’s largest executioner of its citizens but the data is a state secret.

November – December Report (Word)


The death penalty report for October – November is available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  One worrying item is the apparent willingness of the UK government to allow individuals to be sent to the USA with the risk of execution.

October/November report (Word)


The disgraceful treatment of this man in Florida continues.  The American justice system shamed

WE attach the latest message from Reprieve about this man’s continuing incarceration in Florida despite his innocence being demonstrated beyond doubt.  We have written about this case before.

Every time I [Clive Stafford Smith] think that Kris Maharaj cannot be subjected to any more injustice, agents of the State of Florida comes up trumps.  I last visited Kris in the euphemistically named South Florida Reception in September.  I went to share the good news that the Magistrate Judge had set a hearing for October 17th.  This meant we would finally be allowed to prove that his trial was manifestly unfair – and the last 33 years he’s spent in Florida’s prison system are unjust.

I should have known the devastating impact of a broken justice system could not be remedied so quickly – 33 years and counting.  The Magistrate had already agreed that we had submitted proof such that no reasonable juror could now convict Kris of the murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young in Room 1215 of Miami’s Dupont Plaza Hotel all those years ago on October 16th, 1986.  We dismantled every element of the prosecution case against Kris, and obtained sworn testimony from six unimpeached alibi witnesses who placed him far away. Kris even passed his lie detector test: the prosecution’s star witness did not.

Lastly, we lined up half a dozen Colombian cartel witnesses who expressed shock that Kris was locked up for killing the Moo Youngs.  The murders were a hit ordered by Pablo Escobar, they said – the Moo Youngs had been stealing from the Narcos and “had to die.”  One might imagine that this would be sufficient for Kris to be restored to the arms of his long-suffering wife Marita, but under current U.S. precedent it is – we are told – possible that a fair trial should come to the wrong result.  Hence, logic mandates, the mere fact that you are innocent is not enough: you must prove the trial was itself marred.

I stayed with Marita the night before my prison visit. She lives a lonely life in Florida, only permitted to visit her husband every week or two.  Those visits are sacred to both of them.  The only disciplinary sanction Kris has got in the last three decades he has spent in prison involved a violation of the visitation policy – he stole a second kiss with his wife, when the rules only allow one.  Marita’s cottage is a shrine to the life they once had, with pictures of the couple in their London heyday, when Kris was a self-made millionaire.

She served me breakfast at the table where, every Christmas for the past 33 years, she has set a place for her husband, maintaining the fantasy that he might walk in any moment.  In the prison visitation area, Kris and I planned for his hearing. Though the Magistrate had only given us three weeks to prepare, we would meet the deadline. After all, it meant that Kris and Marita might – at long last – actually share their Christmas dinner this year.

AFTER 26 years working on the case, we were ready to prove multiple constitutional violations – from the suppression of exculpatory evidence (a government informant told them in 1986 that the cartel committed the murders), to the fact that the judge had himself been arrested on the third day of the trial for taking a bribe from a law enforcement agent posing as a drug dealer.

The first slap came with the State’s request for three months extra to prepare. That may not seem much, but it takes us into 2020, by which time Kris will be 81-years-old and Marita 80.  The potential knock-out blow came the next day when the State filed an appeal, to try to prevent the hearing altogether.  For 20 pages they argued that Kris should be barred from presenting evidence at all.  It is all nonsense, of course.

They even had the gall to argue that we have not been diligent in pursuing proof of innocence, when I have been to Colombia and back to get it.  We will do what we have always done: trudge on towards justice, hoping to persuade the appellate judge to respond with expedition.  Meanwhile the State’s lawyers callously run down the clock on Kris’s life.  I do sometimes wonder how people sleep at night.  I know I have often not been able to in the 26 years when Kris and Marita have been my responsibility, but that is because I fear I have not done enough, rather than too much.

I am working with Kris and the team at Reprieve to prepare for Kris’ trial in January. Hopefully, no other blows hit us between now and then.  Kris and Marita should not have to spend any more time apart because of an unfair trial 33 years ago.

Thank you for reading,

Read our latest death penalty report.


If you live in the Salisbury/Amesbury/Downton area and would like to join our group you would be most welcome.  You can come to one of our monthly meetings which take place on the second Thursday at 7:30 in Victoria Road Salisbury or come along to one of our events and make yourself known.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook or Twitter to see what we have planned.


Tree of Life. Pic: Salisbury Amnesty

The latest death penalty report produced by the group is available and thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  In the report is a link to the Japanese man who has been imprisoned and on death row for four decades and is now of interest again because the Pope has become involved.

Sept – Oct report (Word)


This is a post from Reprieve concerning the death penalty in Egypt
Children are still being tried

Four years ago, the Egyptian Government committed – on the world stage – to end the death penalty for children.  But, despite this commitment, a loophole in Egypt’s Child Law continues to allow children to be tried alongside adults on capital offences.  Children in Egypt remain at risk of the death penalty. That’s why some of my team are in Geneva this week.

My colleagues working against the death penalty in Egypt are at a United Nations event this week.  Our aim is to make sure other countries like the UK hold Egypt to account on its failed promise from four years ago. We’re doing this in the lead up to Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN on November 13th.

That means we only have a few weeks to make the case to every other country that Egypt needs to be held accountable for its failure to close the loophole and protect the human rights of children.  The more countries that speak up and put pressure on Egypt, the more likely they are to close the loophole.

In turn, UK officials are more likely to step up if they see that this is something UK citizens care about. That’s why we need your help in spreading this campaign, getting more signatures, and gathering as much support as possible for ending the death penalty for children for good.

Please could you add your support.

Facebook link

Alternatively go to supporters@reprieve.org.uk


Briton now has to wait until January for his release

In a recent post we described the situation Kris Maharaj has experienced in Florida USA where he has been imprisoned for 33 years for a crime he did not commit.  There was to be a hearing on 17th of this month but we have just heard from Reprieve that this has been put back until January.   The message from Reprieve is copied below:

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Since you wrote your message of support to Kris Maharaj and his wife Marita, I’m sorry to say there has been a frustrating development.  Kris’ chance at justice was set for October 17th – but yesterday we heard it will not even happen this year.

That’s because the Florida Department of Corrections immediately sought and was granted a 90-day extension until January 18th 2020.  90 days may not sound like a lot, but Kris and his wife Marita have already been waiting 33 years for this nightmare to end.

Any delay is an injustice – and this will take us almost to Kris’ 81st birthday. We need to make sure they do not lose hope.

Can you share this latest instalment of injustice with your friends and family and ask them to add their own words of support?  Here’s a suggested message you can send them:

Kris is a British man who was charged with a murder he could not have committed.  Yet he remains in a Florida prison.  His chance at justice has again been delayed, this time for another 90 days. Add your words of support to Kris and his wife Marita as they endure the latest instalment of their ordeal: https://act.reprieve.org.uk/page/s/send-a-message-of-support-to-kris-and-marita

Or, you can share this story on Facebook or WhatsApp using the below buttons.

 


The death penalty in Saudi Arabia: Salisbury group action
Thursday 10th October 2019 will be the 17th World Day Against the Death Penalty so we are writing to invite you to take part in our Group Action.
This year we are focusing on the practice of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  A report by Baroness Kennedy, presented to the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, has highlighted the ‘alarming’ rise in state executions, including crucifixions.  It states that more than 134 people have been executed this year, with at least 24 more prisoners at imminent risk, including three children.
We are asking supporters to write to John Glen MP on 10th October, drawing his attention to the report, and calling on him to make representations to the Government to support its recommendations and to condemn Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty.
I have attached a copy of a suggested letter to Mr Glen (the member of parliament for Salisbury), which you are welcome to use, or to adapt into your own words.  The letter contains a link to Baroness Kennedy’s report.
If you are able to help, many thanks.

 


UPDATE:  Reprieve have sent through a request to send a message of support to Kris and this can be accessed here.  (24 September 2019)

We report – via Reprieve – the good news that a Briton held for 33 years in Florida, has gained the chance of release about 4 years after it was proved he was innocent.  We have received an email from them which is reproduced in full below:

I’ve [Clive Stafford Smith] just had some incredibly exciting news on the case of Kris Maharaj, the Brit who has already spent 33 unjust years in Florida’s prison system for a murder he did not commit. Kris will finally have an evidentiary hearing on October 17th.  The meaning of that might not be initially obvious, but I assure you it’s a very significant development. It’s one I have been pushing for, for a long time.  It means that Kris finally has the chance to prove in a US federal court that he should not have been deprived of his liberty for more than three decades, let alone have been sentenced to death.

I’ve been involved in more than 400 capital cases over the years, and Kris’ is the greatest injustice of them all.  Evidence uncovered in 2014 proved beyond doubt that Kris is not guilty of the murders for which he has been imprisoned.  The state trial court nevertheless refused to order a new trial at the time.  That’s why I’ve been pushing for a Federal evidentiary hearing.

When I took on this case back in 1993, I had no grey hairs.  Twenty-six years on, you’d be hard pushed to find a hair on my head that isn’t grey or white – and a fair number of them have been caused by the traumas of Kris’ case. But just imagine the impact of the last 33 years on Kris and his wife Marita.  It is hard to believe that we could get justice after all the crushing disappointments we’ve been through over the years, but perhaps – just perhaps – Kris will finally come home for his first Christmas in more than three decades.
The possibility of justice would never have arisen were it not for the kindness of all his supporters.  Both Kris and Marita have said their hope wouldn’t have lasted this long without the support they get from the Reprieve community.

It’s going to be a busy month ahead as I prepare for this hearing, but the Campaigns team at Reprieve will be in touch to update you in the run-up to the 17th October.  Thank you, as always, for your support of Reprieve so we can help many people like Kris and Marita.

We reviewed on these pages, a book, Injustice, on this case by Stafford Smith making the point how unsound the American system is.   So Kris is likely to walk free but it is important to bear in mind that he might have been executed by now.  The book goes into remorseless detail about the inadequacies of the American trial system.  We are conditioned by Hollywood films and TV about how heroic it is but for the poor, the system is rotten.  The police do not have to release evidence to the defence (defense) which helps the defendant, a situation which happened in the UK before PACE was passed.

This is an uplifting story but tragically, he has had to spend over 3 decades in gaol for a crime he did not commit.

A search of his name comes up with a photograph of him with the caption ‘Kris Maharaj, murderer’.

Piece by the Sun newspaper on this case.

 

 

 

 

 

 


The latest death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  It contains information on death penalty matters in Bangladesh, Turkey, USA and other countries.  The report, as ever, is unable to include any information about China where details of executions are a state secret.  It is believed to be the world’s largest executioner.

August – September Report 2019

No to the death penalty