UNITED KINGDOM - Abolitionist
Government: constitutional monarchy
State of civil and political rights: Free
Constitution: unwritten, part common law, part consuetudes and statutes
Legal System: based on common law tradition with early Roman and modern continental influences
Legislative System: bicameral Parliament consists of House of Commons and House of Lords
Judicial System: House of Lords (highest court of appeal; several Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are appointed by the monarch for life); Supreme Courts of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (comprising the Courts of Appeal, the High Courts of Justice, and the Crown Courts); Scotland's Court of Session and Court of the Justiciary
Religion: Protestant (Anglican and Presbyterian) majority; other minorities
International Treaties on the Death Penalty and Human Rights:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (aiming to the abolition of the death penalty)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
- 6th Protocol to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (concerning the abolition of the death penalty)
- European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- Protocol No. 13 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, concerning the abolition of the death penalty in all circumstances
- Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty)
The United Kingdom abolished the death penalty for murder on December 18, 1969 when both Houses of Parliament voted to remove a clause in the Murder Act 1965 restricting the abolition of the death penalty to five years. In 1861, murder had become the only offence for which the death penalty was used in peacetime.
Attempts to abolish the death penalty in Britain had been made since at least 1808, but each initiative was stalled at various stages of the legislative process. That said, even by 1861, there were only four civilian crimes — murder, treason, arson in royal dockyards, and piracy with violence — that were punishable by death.
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 abolished the last remaining capital offences of treason and piracy with violence. The Human Rights Act 1998 replaced the death penalty with a life sentence in Armed Forces legislation.
The Armed Forces Act 2001 abolished the death penalty for Service offences regardless of the circumstances.
On October 10, 2003 United Kingdom deposited with the Council of Europe the instrument of ratification of Protocol No 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms banning the death penalty in all circumstances.
There were 865 executions in Britain during the first 64 years of the 20th century. Of these executions, 830 were executed for murder, 25 for spying (mainly during World War I), four for treason, including the infamous Lord Haw Haw, and six for rape; only 16 women were executed.
In 1955, Ruth Ellis, 28, became the last woman to be hanged in UK.
The last executions in Britain were of two men on August 13, 1964. Peter Anthony Allen, aged 21, was hanged in Walton Gaol, Liverpool, and Gwynne Owen Evans, aged 24, was hanged in Strangeways, Manchester. They were both convicted of the murder of John Alan West, while robbing him in his house on April 7, 1964.
The last British soldier to be executed for a military offence was a private in 1942 after he fought for the Nazis. During the First World War, 307 soldiers were shot for cowardice.
Since hanging was abolished in 1965, British MPs have regularly debated the reintroduction of capital punishment. In the last vote on the death penalty in 1994, the House of Commons voted 403 to 159 against reintroduction. A similar move was defeated in 1990 by 185 votes, while the majority against in 1983 was 170.
In December 2001, Parliament approved the Anti-Terrorism, Security and Crime Bill. This emergency legislation followed the September 11 attacks on the US and allows the Home Secretary to detain indefinitely without trial foreign nationals suspected of terrorism who cannot be deported under the Human Rights Act because they may face the death penalty, torture or degrading treatment.
On December 19, 2016, the United Kingdom co-sponsored and voted in favour of the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.