Whenever capital punishment is raised someone will inevitably ask ‘what about if someone innocent is executed?’.
Well my first response is that the courts failed and that they should be punished for failing. After all, the entire court system exists to determine if someone is guilty or innocent. But apparently getting it wrong is capital punishment’s fault and not the court system’s. But if someone is wrongly convicted it’s not the fault of the police, nor of the jail, nor of the rope, it’s the court’s fault.
Although maybe there is another way to get the court system to work as it’s supposed to; a Permanent Royal Commission into Capital Convictions.
Three Judges would run the Permanent Royal Commission. They each serve for 9 years, with a member leaving and a new member being appointed every 3 years, at 3 yearly intervals, on a rotating basis. All decisions have to be made within 365 days from the date of conviction and all executions must take place within 365 days of the Royal Commission’s decision to proceed. All convictions for murder and treason should be punishable by capital punishment. The purpose of the Royal Commission would be:
- To check that all procedures and legalities are met. In other words, did they receive a fair trial.
- To determine if there is a possibility that someone else may have committed the crime.
To obtain a conviction under English law (the bases of most law in the English speaking world) the prosecutor must prove that whomever is on trial is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Clause 2. would raise the standard for capital punishment, but not for conviction. So a murder conviction would still stand even if the Royal Commission said that it was possible that someone else committed the crime. Possible does not mean likely, it does not mean they did not commit the crime, it means that it can only be proven to beyond a reasonable doubt, but not to a higher standard of evidence.
It is also important that the Royal Commission be put into it’s proper context:
- It is not an appeals court, it cannot set anyone free or reduce anyone’s sentence.
- Its purpose is not to stop executions, its purpose is to make sure that every care has been taken to execute the guilty and no one else.
- It has all of the normal powers of a Royal Commission, it can call witnesses and release recommendations as it sees fit.
The Royal Commission can provide one of three outcomes:
- Proceed with the sentence.
- Do not proceed with the sentence.
- Order a retrial
Like cold cases, any conviction that has not been proceeded with should be looked at again as time passes to see if the situation has changed. Anyone who is sentenced to death but that the Royal Commission has said not to proceed with the sentence should be given an automatic life sentence for their natural life, with no possibility of parole. If not death then life.
Too often the fear of executing the innocent is used as an excuse to not execute the guilty. Here we can get rid of that problem.