Don't politicise death penalty

I refer to the interview with Lord Browne-Wilkinson (The Lawyer, 17 May 1999).

Enforcement of the death penalty, which is nothing more than state sponsored murder, must be subject to the greatest constitutional safeguards. If one allows political considerations to come into play you develop the situation in the US, where in the year leading up to elections there is a surge in death warrants being signed by incumbent governors (it should not be forgotten that Bill Clinton cynically had a man executed to boost a flagging election campaign). The implicit suggestion contained in the interview is that we should repatriate the Privy Council jurisdiction to allow the local courts to run roughshod through the constitution. Such a suggestion, that we should allow political popularity reasons to dictate whether potential victims of the death penalty are entitled to constitutional protection, should not go unchallenged.

Such suggestions have been allowed for many years to hold sway in the US, which is why in 1996 the right to constitutional review of convictions was drastically curtailed and why the appointment of the Supreme Court Justices is now effectively impossible if they are seen as being soft on the death penalty.

It is worth observing that this suggestion has led to the situation that in some states with a public defender system which is elected, candidates need to declare support for the death penalty if they hope to be elected!

I should declare my interest in the matter – I am a solicitor in private practice and act for three men facing the death penalty in the US.

Owen W D Williams, Bristol