Friday 26 March 2021
11.00 - 12.15
Identity, Memory and the Death Penalty: Transnational and Comparative Perspectives
James Campbell :
The UK Government and the Death Penalty in Hong Kong, 1965 to 1993
The last execution in Hong Kong took place in 1966, but the death penalty remained the mandatory punishment for homicide in the colony until 1993. In the intervening years, 271 convicted murderers were sentenced to death and spared from the gallows by executive clemency. Previous studies have found ... (Show more)
The last execution in Hong Kong took place in 1966, but the death penalty remained the mandatory punishment for homicide in the colony until 1993. In the intervening years, 271 convicted murderers were sentenced to death and spared from the gallows by executive clemency. Previous studies have found that by 1973 the UK government refused to allow executions to proceed in Hong Kong and argued that this was primarily for domestic political reasons. Newly-released UK government archives make clear, however, that clemency was neither automatic nor unproblematic for British authorities in Hong Kong and London during the 1970s and 1980s. On the contrary, the policy of retaining but not enforcing the death penalty was regularly challenged by both proponents and opponents of capital punishment and questioned by Hong Kong governors in the wake of particularly heinous crimes. Foreign and Commonwealth Office legal advisers and ministers repeatedly reviewed the policy and their reasons for retaining it changed over time in ways that reflect both the dynamics of the UK’s relationship with Hong Kong and broader shifts in international law and global debates about the death penalty in the late-20th century. The FCO also worked closely with Hong Kong governors to develop justifications for individual clemency decisions based on a very broad interpretation of what might constitute a miscarriage of justice. This stance was in marked contrast to the handling of death penalty cases in British overseas territories in the North Atlantic and Caribbean where the potential for miscarriages of justice was regularly noted by UK officials but rarely acted on. (Show less)
Donald Fyson :
State Vengeance and Divine Mercy: the Rise and Fall of Religion in Quebec Capital Punishment, 1760-1960
In the 1960s and 1970s, while debates raged in Canada over the abolition of the death penalty, observers noted the lack of support for abolition among the majority francophone population of the province of Quebec. This they attributed among others to the influence of Catholicism, with its rigorist attitude towards ... (Show more)
In the 1960s and 1970s, while debates raged in Canada over the abolition of the death penalty, observers noted the lack of support for abolition among the majority francophone population of the province of Quebec. This they attributed among others to the influence of Catholicism, with its rigorist attitude towards punishment. This paper examines the complex historical relationship between religion and capital punishment in Quebec, over the two centuries from the British conquest of 1759/1760 to the last execution in the province in 1960.
The paper focuses on three areas in particular. First, it sketches out the attitudes of major churches in Quebec towards capital punishment and executions: not just the Catholic Church but also main-stream Protestant churches such as Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists. Secondly, it surveys the use of religious language and religious arguments in public and quasi-public discourse concerning executions and capital punishment, mainly focussing on newspaper reports and pardon petitions. Finally, it examines the place of religious symbolism and religious ceremony in Quebec executions themselves.
Overall, the paper shows that the place of religion in the discourse and practice of executions in Quebec did not conform to the steady decline seen in many other jurisdictions. Instead, the metaphor of rise and fall is more appropriate. Catholicism was an important feature of the death penalty under French rule in Canada. This shifted radically under British governance after 1760, with capital punishment becoming essentially a secular ceremony of state vengeance: neither the numerically dominant Catholic Church, nor the nominally supreme Anglican Church, had much to say about executions, or to do with them. This contrasted with the heavily religious nature of the death penalty in some of Britain's other American colonies. However, as opposed to what occurred elsewhere, the desacralization of Quebec executions was only temporary. Nineteenth-century Quebec saw instead a renaissance of the religious dimension of capital punishment. This was mainly the result of a reinvigorated Catholic ultramontane hierarchy, which essentially took over the state execution ceremony as a way to demonstrate its power through the mercy afforded to the penitent condemned. At the same time, the Catholic hierarchy had very little to say about capital punishment in general, just like the main Protestant churches. All preferred to leave such debates to the press, which as regards the death penalty was divided along political and linguistic rather than religious lines. The increasing bureaucratization and secret nature of capital punishment in the twentieth century also meant that religious ceremony once again became less central to executions themselves. Nevertheless, public and quasi-public discourse regarding capital punishment retained a heavily religious flavour, both in favour of and against the death penalty. It is this deep historical context, rather than abstract Catholic rigorism, which best explains continuing support for the death penalty in francophone Quebec through the 1960s and 1970s. (Show less)
Daniel LaChance :
Death in Black and White: the Representation of Race in Southern Newspaper Coverage of Executions in the United States, 1877-1967
Since the resumption of executions in the United States in 1977, states in the nation’s Southern region have been responsible for 80% of the 1,493 executions carried out in the modern era. Prior research has argued that the South’s historical use of the death penalty and lynching as a mechanism ... (Show more)
Since the resumption of executions in the United States in 1977, states in the nation’s Southern region have been responsible for 80% of the 1,493 executions carried out in the modern era. Prior research has argued that the South’s historical use of the death penalty and lynching as a mechanism of racial control in the early twentieth century has underlain its exceptional use of capital punishment in the modern era. This paper seeks to deepen this body of research by exploring whether and how southern newspaper coverage of condemned men’s executions during this period differed according to their race. Analyzing journalistic coverage of the 421 executions in Louisiana and 803 executions in Georgia, I find that the largest newspaper in each state framed the death penalty as a punishment that served a number of punitive purposes: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and, ironically, rehabilitation. This study pursues the hypothesis that articles that appealed to the penal purposes of retribution and rehabilitation were more likely to be about the executions of white men, while articles that appealed to the penal purposes of incapacitation and deterrence were more likely to be about the executions of black men. (Show less)
Alexa Neale :
Hanging by the Book: Mercy and Memory in 20th Century England and Wales
In one of millions of near-identical, brown hardboard boxes occupying miles of uniform shelves at the UK National Archives, is an unusual item: a large, heavy book, thick as a fist, bound in black leather with metal-edged covers and a now-redundant lock. On the 200 incoherently numbered and inconsistently filled ... (Show more)
In one of millions of near-identical, brown hardboard boxes occupying miles of uniform shelves at the UK National Archives, is an unusual item: a large, heavy book, thick as a fist, bound in black leather with metal-edged covers and a now-redundant lock. On the 200 incoherently numbered and inconsistently filled pages are listed the names of the hanged. This is the UK Home Office’s internal record of their decisions to hang or reprieve the fifteen-hundred people sentenced to death in England and Wales in the twentieth century. Though they bestowed mercy on about half, their reasons for doing so in each case were kept secret from public and press, noted only in ‘the black book,’ to which only select senior civil servants had access.
From 2019 a unique project is finding that the black book was consulted every time a new capital case crossed the Home Secretary’s desk, operating as a working index and cross-reference against past cases deemed to be similar. Not only does the existence of such a book challenge foregoing understandings of mercy and pardon processes, including contemporary official accounts of how decisions were reached, analyses of its contents also demonstrate the categories of crimes and convicted that were deemed most worthy of mercy, or those for whom the rope was considered most just.
This paper explores the categories and cases most frequently referred to in the secret Home Office book, challenging foregoing understandings of the significance of famous cases, miscarriages of justice, and particularly ‘bad murders’. It shows that, far from considering specific circumstances and arguments for mercy from juries and petitioners in individual cases, civil servants preferred to draw on their own institutional memory of how their predecessors had dealt with cases they interpreted as similar. By exploring the indices and categories by which capital cases were remembered and recorded, the established view of the civilising and modernising society that forged the path to death penalty abolition can be unsettled, revealing the deeply ambivalent feelings of those who administered mercy and hanging according to a bureaucratic system and institutional memory. (Show less)
Lizzie Seal :
Assassination, Colonialism and the Death Penalty in England: Madan Lal Dhingra and Udham Singh
This paper compares the cases of Madan Lal Dhingra, 1909 and Udham Singh, 1940, who were both executed in England for assassinating colonial officials. It will explore the ways in which the assassinations were portrayed in court and in the press, and how the Home Office responded to them. It ... (Show more)
This paper compares the cases of Madan Lal Dhingra, 1909 and Udham Singh, 1940, who were both executed in England for assassinating colonial officials. It will explore the ways in which the assassinations were portrayed in court and in the press, and how the Home Office responded to them. It will consider their political significance in the respective periods in which they took place.
Dhingra was born into a wealthy family in Amritsar that was supportive of British rule. He studied engineering at University College London and became involved in the student nationalist movement.
On 1 July 1909, he attended an event at the Imperial Institution held by the British Indian Association. As the guests were leaving, he produced a revolver from his pocket and shot and killed Sir William Curzon Wyllie, an official of the British Indian Government. He also killed an Indian doctor who attempted to intervene. Dhingra expressed strong anti-colonial views and the Home Office was concerned that executing him would make him a martyr to the cause of Indian independence. However, as there was no evidence of insanity and it was a deliberate double murder, they decided he must hang. Dhingra was executed 17 August 1909 at Pentonville.
Udham Singh was also from Amritsar and claimed to have been present at the Amritsar Massacre in 1919 during which hundreds of unarmed Indians were shot dead by the British Indian Army. Singh travelled across the United States and Europe working as a carpenter on American ships. He was imprisoned in India for five years for carrying arms and seditious literature. He settled in London in the mid-1930s. On 13 March 1940, Singh attended a public lecture hosted by Sir Michael O’Dwyer at Caxton Hall. O’Dwyer had agreed the decision for the army to fire on the crowd at Amritsar. Singh shot O’Dwyer with a revolver at close range as a protest against British Imperialism. He was hanged 31 July 1940 at Pentonville. (Show less)