Punishment by death. Capital punishment is retained in 87 countries and territories (2001), including the USA (38 states), China, and Islamic countries. Methods of execution include electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, shooting, lethal injection, garrotting, and decapitation. It was abolished in the UK in 1965 for all crimes except treason and piracy, and in 1998 it was entirely abolished in the UK.
Capital punishment is a hotly contested issue. Those opposed to it argue that it constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment, is inconsistent with fundamental democratic and civilized values, is as immoral as murder, is discriminatory because most of those executed, at least in the USA, are black and poor, that it is expensive, since it burdens the criminal justice system with lengthy appeals, that it does not deter crime, and that innocent people will be put to death.
Those in favour of capital punishment argue that it is a more effective deterrent to crime than imprisonment, is a just punishment for the crime of murder and in reality demonstrates a reverence for human life, that it guarantees that the condemned person will commit no further crimes, that it is necessary to provide retribution for the victim's families, and that it is more economic than life sentences.
Capital punishment in Britain
The reduction in the number of capital offences in Britain in the 19th century followed campaigns from 1810 onwards by Samuel Romilly (17571818) and others. Several acts were passed, each reducing the number of crimes liable to this penalty. From 1838 it was rarely used except for murder. It was abolished for murder in 1965, and for treason in 1998.
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