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10 Oct 2018

Howard League asks Prime Minister for meeting over the death penalty

The Howard League for Penal Reform has written to the Prime Minister to request a meeting over the UK government’s decision this summer not to seek assurances from the US government against the use of the death penalty.

The letter, which is co-signed by other non-governmental organisations, lawyers and academics, was sent to Theresa May today (Wednesday 10 October), which is also World Day Against the Death Penalty.

The letter states: “The position of this country in opposing capital punishment is clear, principled and has been adopted by all political parties.

“This principle has manifested itself in policies not to extradite individuals without assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed, and it has led to successive governments imposing expert controls on the materials used in executions.

“It is therefore astonishing that the government has reneged on this stance on this occasion.”

The letter has been signed by Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform. Four other organisations – Amnesty International UK, JUSTICE, Death Penalty Project and Liberty – have also signed, along with Lord Carlile of Berriew QC and Ben Emmerson QC.

The letter has also been signed by six eminent academics: Professor Carolyn Hoyle, University of Oxford; Dr Bharat Malkani, Cardiff University; Dr Mai Sato, University of Reading; Professor William A Schabas, Middlesex University; Dr Lizzie Seal, University of Sussex; and Professor Jon Yorke, Director of the Centre for Human Rights at Birmingham City University.

The letter continues: “We note the statements made in the House of Commons by Ben Wallace MP on 23 July 2018 that in deciding not to seek death penalty assurances from the US government the UK consulted its Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance (OSJA).

“The failure of the OSJA policy to prevent this kind of action suggests the policy is inadequate, and again highlights the question recently raised by the Home Affairs Committee as to ‘whether the Overseas Security and Justice Assistance guidance is fit for purpose’.

“Mr Wallace’s statement and the lack of action to seek assurances against the death penalty call into question the UK government’s sincerity and integrity in upholding international human rights. It also strikes a blow in practical terms against efforts to eradicate the death penalty.

“As a matter of principle we must respect and uphold human rights. The prohibition on the death penalty is absolute and there should be no circumstances in which the UK may be complicit in legitimising its application.

“This principle is universal and we seek an assurance from you that it will be applied in all instances, irrespective of the nature of the request for British assistance and irrespective of nationality, including in cases where the person in question is stateless.”

The UK’s record on the death penalty will be considered in the 2018 Howard League Lecture, which is to be delivered by Ben Emmerson QC, a former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, in London on Monday 15 October.

The Howard League Lecture is held annually in memory of Lord Parmoor, Howard League supporter and donor.

In this year’s lecture, which has the title ‘In the Shadow of the Noose: Attempts to Undermine the United Kingdom’s Principled Opposition to the Death Penalty’, Ben Emmerson QC will examine the UK government’s recent record in death penalty cases and ask whether they have fatally compromised the UK’s international reputation for promoting the progressive abolition of the death penalty around the world.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. The letter to the Prime Minister can be read in full on the Howard League website.
  1. The 2018 Howard League Lecture, to be delivered by Ben Emmerson QC, is to be held on Monday 15 October at 6pm at Clifford Chance LLP, 10 Upper Bank Street, London, E14 5JJ. Journalists are welcome to attend, but must register in advance. Visit the Howard League website for more information.


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