UK Support for Death Penalty Falls Below 50% For First Time

Death penalty
British support for the death penalty has dropped by 6% since last year. Jenevieve Robbins/Texas Dept of Criminal Justice/Handout via Reuters

Support for the death penalty in the UK has dropped under 50% for the first time since attitudes began to be recorded more than 30 years ago.

The British Social Attitudes survey found that 48% of around 3,000 people surveyed back capital punishment “for some crimes”, down from 54% last year. In 1983, when the survey began, 75% of Britons backed the death penalty.

Capital punishment remained popular for the majority of Ukip supporters, with 75% of those identified as backing the party expressing support for the death penalty.

A Ukip spokesperson says that the party had no official policy on the death penalty but believes it should be debated in parliament and subjected to a free vote. He adds that the party was unconcerned by the high levels of support for capital punishment among Ukip supporters. “People are allowed to have their own views on this as on any matter. As the party has not and will not have a policy on the subject it matters not a jot,” he says.

Clare Algar, executive director of the charity Reprieve, which campaigns against the death penalty, says that the result was a sign of progress.“This welcome finding finally debunks the myth that, given half the chance, the British people would vote to bring back hanging. In fact the trend is clear – Brits in increasing numbers agree that the death penalty has no place in a civilised society.”

The death penalty was last carried out in Britain in 1964, when Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were hanged on conviction of murder. It was finally outlawed in the 1998 Human Rights Act – a parliamentary vote on a provision of this act outlawing capital punishment except “in times of war or imminent war” was passed by 294 votes to 136.

Amnesty International reported that at least 778 people were executed in 22 countries during 2013, a 15% rise from the previous year. Figures from China, which the charity says executes more people than the rest of the world combined, were not included as use of the death penalty there remains a state secret.

Amongst Americans, support for the execution of convicted murderers stands at 63%, with a greater proportion supporting the death penalty ahead of life imprisonment. Since 1976, 143 prisoners executed in the U.S. have since been exonerated of their crimes. Earlier this week, Utah became the only U.S. state to legalise death by firing squad.

In Russia, where a moratorium on the death penalty has been in place since 1996, 52% were found to back the punishment when surveyed last year. Of around 30,000 surveyed, 85.2% of Japanese respondents were found to support the death penalty when questioned in 2013. The death penalty is statutory in Japan for murder and treason.

The British Social Attitudes Survey is an annual survey conducted by independent social researchers NatCen, which has been carried out every year since 1983.