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Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965: 50 Years

Published Monday, November 9, 2015

This In Focus highlights the 50th anniversary of the passing and enactment of the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act in 1965. It then presents some context for this anniversary by providing a snapshot of the situation with regards to the use of the death penalty worldwide.

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The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 received royal assent on 8 November 1965 and came into force the next day, on 9 November 1965.  It suspended capital punishment in the case of persons convicted of murder in Great Britain until 1970. MPs voted to make this permanent on 16 December 1969, with Peers voting likewise the next day.

The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 started its passage through Parliament as a private member’s bill sponsored by Sydney Silverman, Labour MP for Nelson and Colne. It received its second reading in the House of Commons on 21 December 1964, on division, by 355 votes to 170.  The Bill was sponsored in the House of Lords by Baroness Wootton of Abinger, the first woman to be created a life Peer under the Life Peerages Act 1958.  The Bill received its second reading in the House of Lords over the course of two days—19 and 20 July 1965—and was passed on division by 204 votes to 104.

The Act did not extend to Northern Ireland, where capital punishment was abolished in cases of murder under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Powers) Act 1973. 

International Situation Today

Although the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act was passed in 1965, it was not until 1998 that the UK formally abolished the death penalty as a punishment for all offences. According to Amnesty International, as at July 2015, 101 countries around the world had abolished the death penalty for all crimes.  However, Amnesty also stated that at least 22 countries carried out executions last year, the same figure as for 2013.  In its most recent report on the death penalty, Death Sentences and Executions in 2014, Amnesty estimated that at least 2,466 people were sentenced to death worldwide in 2014—up 28 percent on the estimate for 2013 —and that at least 607 executions were carried out. This represented a decrease of almost 22 percent compared to the figures recorded for 2013, but did not include the number of people who were believed to have been executed in China, “where data on capital punishment is considered a state secret”. 

UK Government Policy

The UK Government has stated that it is “opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances”, and that it “calls on all states”, both privately and publicly, to “adopt a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 186 adopted in December 2014” as part of a process towards complete abolition.

Lords In Focus LIF-2015-0044

Author: Thomas Brown

Topics: Criminal law, Human rights

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