Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Death Penalty revisited...plus some food...and some complainin'

In reverse order to the title above, first comes the complaining. That's probably not a terribly good way to write a blog, I suppose you're meant to hook your readers in a bit? Look at it another way, we're getting the pain out of the way early. Although not strictly true as I will be ending on the death penalty...

Snowed in

Anyhoo. First- snow! So very pretty, and really terribly good fun. I made a snowman and played around with some bits of it for quite a while. The texture, packing together all those flakes of snow, imagining all those 6 pointed crystals jamming together, was really quite lovely. What made it feel a little slippery, slimy as it melts in your fingers? Ionic bonds, covalent something or other? Lovely as it was it did rather make London come to a stand still.

I think it was the combined prayers of ICSL students that did it...

This was a blessing of sorts because dear old ICSL was forced to extend the Opinion writing deadline for a day. This only made me think, ooh I have another day. Perfect time to finish the Blackadder DVD boxset (up to series 3 now, the power-crazed Liz 1 is most entertaining!). And now it has been submitted and I do hope that I've passed because I would happily never do that again. Until I start my practice as an actual barrister, where a significant chunk of one's daily work will involve giving advice and writing opinions.

Am I deluding myself as to my ability to be a good barrister? I hope not. I think there's a crucial difference between the artificial BVC exercise and real-life opinions. Namely that, if I was researching an area that I knew nothing about I'd probably run some things by someone who knew something about it. 'Dave, can I just check that I've understood this rule of X law? Aha, I see - glad I checked, it wasn't entirely clear from the case law/statutes'.

I'm quite sure that my research skills are severely remiss, and I completely understand why we are not allowed to talk to anyone about the subject matter of the Research/Opinion. It does cause a little bit of unnecessary panic though, and a lot of my panicking to understand the law of defamation would have been a lot more efficient, if for example as a pupil I could have talked to a co-pupil, a solicitor friend, or my pupil master.


The git has been submitted for now, and fingers crossed this is the last I will see of those two options! I'm much more looking forwards to concentrating on Drafting and Advocacy - things I might, with some luck, get good at.
I hope everyone else is feeling suitably relieved. Special mention to Barmaid who it seems had to deal with a stonker of an assignment.

Food, glorious food

And now for something completely different : I want a sous vide machine because of these chaps and also I saw it on a telly programme. Shame they cost $3000ish. Also, I do feel instinctively that they must make food taste of the plastic it's wrapped in. 90 minutes is also rather long for a steak. I'm sure it will pass, last week I wanted a chocolate tempering machine because of this man's blog. And an ice cream maker, the kind that has its own refrigeration unit. Then I could make gelatos, and sorbets, and creams and ices, and all manner of loveliness. The continuing cake obsession shows no sign of fading, you will be pleased to hear. My doctor will be pleased to hear that I have been tempering this will some sort of vegetable based items - try quarted brussel sprouts, boiled/steamed in a minimal amount of water until bright green (when their nutrients are at a peak) seasoned, with stilton cheese sprinkled on top. Revelation of brussel sprouts + blue cheese = guilt free deliciousness courtesy of The Gruniad.

Death Penalty

Finally, I opened up the proverbial can of worms with my last post. I did say that I would do another blog post, and in fact I don't think that the subject can be treated in a single blog post. Well, it could but it would hardly be easy to read.

Why my interest in the death penalty, you might ask? Well, I've lived here all my life and Britain is clearly a country that doesn't entertain capital punishment and I haven't had any personal involvement with it. Or, I should say with aggravated murder generally. That sounds a bit silly, but what I mean is my life experiences don't put me in either the 'victim/survivor' camp or the, umm, convicted murderer camp.

I have a connection to the States, and I spent a few months working with some of the leading death-penalty lawyers in the country. This was at State and Federal level, and included appellate work and working on live cases, and a fair bit on voir dire stuff as well as extensive research. Really blimming interesting.

The other reason for my interest is the same as many others- I live in society, subject to the rules of law and morality along with everyone else. I am probably a bit of a leftie-human-rights-cheerleader. That's me in context.

So, the Death Penalty in three parts:

1 - The Emotions and ethics behind the death penalty
2- the Death Penalty in practice - public perceptions, voir dire and trials.
3 - the Death Penalty in practice - appellate procedures, costs, and lots of lovely, shiny statistics.

Oh - if it wasn't obvious, I'm not a big fan of the death penalty.


Lawminx said...

Hi Mel,

Isnt it interesting how a flurry of snow has thrown dear old Blighty into absolute chaos?! What FUN! You got an extra day for OWD and I was wholeheartedly able avoid a meeting of the postgraduate progression committee which we then devoted to EXTREME procrastination! ( I wound up baking some biscuits rather than polishing my progress updates!!)

You are not in any way deluding yourself about your abilities to be a good barrister; there is an enormous theory-practic(s)e gap which I witnessed on a mini just this last week. Its a question, I think, of giving the provider what they want ( because thats what the Bar Standards Board TELLS them thats what they want) such that, when you attain the Golden Snitch of Pupillage, you willat least have a bit of a clue when it comes to research, opinion writing and drafting, only to be re-educated all over again in the nuances of these matters by your pupil master! Glad to see your work's gone in, so onward and upward!!

EEEE! Food! I am on a diet, and you are meating out ( pardon the pun) cruel and unusual treatment to my appetite with all this talk of chocolate, cake and steak!!! You are as bad as GeekLawyer, who recently did a resteraunt review at a gorgeous steakhouse in Mayfair! I am GREEN with envy!!

Speaking of Cruel and Unusual Treatment ( and I am fully aware of the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Death Penalty does not fall within the remit of these terms) The Death Penalty is unbelievably and unspeakably WRONG on many, many levels:

1: It is a BLATANT violation of Articles 3 and 5 of the Universal ( even if you drop the cruel and unusual treatment part, it still constitutes a form of torture) Declaration.

2: It is ABSOLUTELY irrevocable and has been inflicted on the innocent, time and time again.

3:It has never EVER been shown to deter crime any more effectively than any other punishment.

4: Some countries ( Pakistan, China, Democratic Republic of Congo and even the USA until, thank GOD, the Supreme Court ruled such treatment unconstitutional in 2005) broker no difference between adults and legal minors, and routinely sentence children to death.Iran is a particularly noteable example - at least 13 children have been executed since 1990 ( Amnesty International)

5: Isnt it about time that the world put aside its backward obession with an eye for an eye, and concentrate on the principles of justice, and equity?

I would like to think that I am not hoping in vain that the world will come around to the realisation that the Death Penalty is wrong, particularly since the UN passed a resolution in December 2008 calling for a Moratorium on it's Abolition of But then again, I've just finished reading ' Hidden Scandal, Secret Shame' a short, but nasty little book concerning the global abuse of children's rights, including the use of the death penalty, and I despair.
I suspect, then, that I will just have to wait for the inevitable bollocking that will follow this post from those who are in favour of this wicked, WICKED punishment.

( can you tell I'm not in favour of it either?!)

Mel said...

Hello Minx!

Thanks for the encouragement re BVC skills. Apologies for the steak, chocolate, cake laden post. I do feel a bit remiss if I skimp on the food in posts- Swiss will be after me!
Alas in real life I am not indulging so. Diet must start for real. When doing work (like the opinion) it takes priorities and if a few biscuits help me eek out those words, then so be it.

I woke up Monday wanting to go for a nice long walk, and a big of a jog - to see the blanket of snow! I'm now looking up all manner of radical things like fasts and Saltwater cleanses. What do we do to ourselves!

Your points 1-5 are most excellent ones.

Law Minx said...


In my capacity as a slightly overweight nurse, I urge you not to go for anything too extreme! I'm finding the rather old fashioned Scarsdale Diet is working well for me; its a diet with loads and LOADS of fresh fruit and veg,its just low in carbs. You follow it strictly for 14 days, then relax for a week. I've lost a stone so far, and I've managed to keep it off!

With regard to points 1-5, I know I'm preaching to the converted (and, indeed, posting stuff that's common knowledge) but this is a topic that falls within the remit of the Thesis Monster, and the more I look into it, the more HOPPING mad I get!

Swiss Tony said...

Mel, blimey, if you are eating brussel sprouts and Stilton I bet your house is a no go zone.

Interesting theories on the death penalty, but on Minxy's list of 5:

1. Didn't the death penalty come before any Human Rights laws?

2. OK, it is irrevocable, but thats the point. Innocents? Yes, I am sure it has, but it has been used on more guilty than innocent.

3. What does? Does prison reform? Community Service that they don't bother turning up to? ASBO's that are collected like trophies. Go on, go on, go on, tell me something that works.

4. Bad.

5. I don't see it as en eye for an eye. We don't cut hands off for shoplifting. (OK, we don't do the death penalty either, but substitute America for 'us') Isn't the death penalty reserved for those despicable acts of murder? Isn't it based on a view that if they are killed they cannot kill again? Whats the point in locking someone up for life never to be released?

Although I posted before as a fully paid up member of the 'hang em high brigade', I think I could be convinced it was bad if the right arguments were used. I just haven't heard any yet.

Maybe there are enough ills in society that don't get dealt with properly, enough injustice in this world to make me not that bothered about something that doesn't affect me. I am sure if I did the work Mel did, I would want them all released, or at least saved.

And as for the snow, why is everyone moaning about it? Whats 2 or 3 days of disruption once in every 18 years


barmaid said...

Hiya Mel,

Don't know what it is about BVC, but I seem to be forever hungry. Those cakes just look soooo good:-)

Yes, the LR was a stinker, glad it is out of the way.

I await the results for my mock Opinion assignment, not too sure how I did, but I'm guessing that the marker won't be bowled over by my work.

Am I correct in thinking that we do still have the death penalty over here for treason, or is that just another nonsense thought of mine?

Well, you are past the half-way marker with BVC and will soon be on the gentle jog towards the finishing line. As a part-timer, I have ages ahead of me and loads left to learn, but despite BVC being hideously expensive and a much maligned course, I have taken to it much better than I had hoped and do find most of the work useful and interesting, if only there wasn't so much of it...

Good luck with the Opinion, I'm sure you will be just fine:-)

Mel said...

Hey Barmaid,

Over half way through= yay!

Death penalty for treason was axed in 1990, as an anachronism. So within our lifetimes, we did, yes have the death penalty!


Without being indelicate, my household was not an inhospitable place post the brussels. For a start I only had the one serving, and secondly- I think if you're used to having lots of fibre in your diet then you're alright with that kind of thing. I like my lentils and my pulses so I think my systems' used to it. See, I'm just a raging hippie through and through.

With the right arguments you might be convinced? That sounds like a challenge!


Well done you on the Scarsdale! It does sound like a sensible diet, enough of a kickstart in the beginning to get you going and then just sensibleness afterwards. I'm not into extremes with food, fear not. Well, occasionally chocolate overdoses. And cheese, and toast, but otherwise- I like my fruit and veg and my wholegrains. If I can just learn to go for a walk when stressed instead of having a sandwich, I'd be absolutely fine.

A website I really like is: www.whfoods.org. Full of lovely, low GI recipes that are quick and quite yummy. Good for lighter eating and everyday.

Keep battling the thesis monster!

Lawminx said...

My Dear Swiss,

I understand and indeed can appreciate the fact that you are a paid up member of the hang em high society, but on the basis of fundemental rights, I feel I must disagree with you.

1: Human rights are inherent. EVERYONE is born with them and no one has the right to fully take them away ( some may be qualified, some may be restriced, but some are absolutely not up for grabs in ANY context) They have always existed though it has taken very many treaties in international law to bring them to the world's attention. Even now, in many countries, they are comprehensively ignored.
The death penalty, bieng state sanctioned mruder, is something the world should be striving to grow away from and not into.

2:Very many innocents have indeed been put to death, despite their protestations. The notion of 'colateral damage' does not in anyway justify on going use of the death penalty.

3:Why do we have criminologists and penal specialists, experts in responsible sanction. It is to them we must look for appropriate punishments; the death penalty is, always has been, and always will be, a grossely disproprotionate way of handing down societal aprobation.

4: Utterly filled with total badness and complete and utter wrongness.

5:I am afraid I very much do see the death penalty as an eye for an eye, and not so much about justice as vengance. I would have thought that the deprivation of one's liberty, never again to be able to go where you want and do what you please, for the rest of your life and living with the full constant and daily reminder of your deeds is more than fitting punishment.

PS: did you know that the gallows in Holloway Prison was only taken down in 1998 and even then as a result of human rights activism?!

Sorry, one and all if I appear to be up on my soap box but this is the very reason that Doughty Street is the chambers of my dreams!

Swiss Tony said...


1. Everyone hasn't always been born with human rights. In the history of our own green and pleasant land, individuals freedom has been but a mere microcism of time. Serfs and Masters. servants God forbid, the slave trade, womens rights. Even my kids sometimes do what I tell them.

2. Wrapping the death sentence up with a description of 'State sanctioned murder' is a bit of a heart tug description. Vets don't practice state sanctioned murder. (Sorry, my 2 is still on your 1!)

2. I wasn't justifying the death sentence on only a few innocents being killed. I just don't see that the death sentence is so terrible.

3. Why do we have them? Good question. If they could only come up with a suitable sentence that worked we wouldn't need the death sentence or any other sentence. They could stop crime in a minute if they had the right idea. As they haven't come up with anything in the last couple of hundred years, what are they working on? Are they the same people that won't let community service 'convicts' wear fluorescent jackets because it criminalises them? Or is that the Human Rights movement?

4. Bad, very bad. At least we agree on one of your points!

5. Well we disagree on this point. I don't see that the executioner is carrying out his task out of vengence. More justice I would have thought.

ps. Did they sell them on ebay?

Swizzle xx

Law Minx said...


1: I maintain that we have always been born with rights - why else the great historical works of jurisprudence which contemplate the same? The growth of man inevitably means the growth of his rights; as we (allegedly) become more sophisticated, is it not time to sideline the idea of societal condemnation by means of the death penalty?

2:The irrevocability of the death sentence brokers no chance whatsoever for the innocent, those who had a shitty defence, a mismanaged trial, who acnnot affort a decent lawyer or who had no lawyer or trial at all - thats supposing they even had access to these things in the first place.
People cannot be even justifiably imprisoned without these things, let alone face capital punishment.
Vets dont practice state sanctioned murder, because generally speaking vets dont work for the state.

3: It is to criminologists and penologists that we must look to broker alternatives to the death penalty. I cannot demonstrate something that 'works' by way of punishment, -though I do agree that ASBO's are a very silly option- since this is not my field. As a servant of the courts, I hope to see justice done, nothing more and nothing less, with appropriate sanction metred out when justice is done.I do not view the taking of one life for another as justice,merely the worst sort of retribution. Actually the people banning the wearing of vests on those completeing a community sentence are quite likely to BE criminologists/penologists in point of view, given that the whole notion probably runs to state of mind. In any event, individuals completeing a community sentence arent always necessarily villains embarking on a career in crime - and for those, the comomunity sentence is quite shame enough.

4: I'm glad we agree - the abuse of childrens rights on a global level is an entire Thesis Monster of itself.

5: I think here we will have to agree to disagree since we have different ideas on the concept of justice!

I cant win em all, I suppose, Swiss, but I do commend to you, as someone with an interest in family law ' Hidden Scandal, Secret Shame' which concerns the abuses of children's rights. Shocking, thought provoking reading......

Swiss Tony said...

Blimey Minxy, I hope to never face you across a court room! A bar maybe, but not THE bar!


1. Children have been born into slavery in this country, and still do in other countries. So much for sophistication. If peoples rights began in the 1800's, its still a small part of time.

2. Why did I mention vets! Doh. Saying that you can't execute someone just in case they are innocent is silly. It isn't done lightly.

3. Don't they say that a very high percentage of ex-prisoners re-offend. (I won't quote a figure in case someone actually knows the right figure!) So prison doesn't work very well. I doubt that many punishments work particularly well.

4. Shall we drop 4?

5. OK, we can drop that one too!

If I read that book, will I become as wound up about the subject as you? I get angry on the odd occasions I read the Daily Mail! Or watch the news.

I did read John Grishams book about the guy sent to prison, on death row for a crime he didn't commit. When he was eventually released, his life was so screwed up he may just as well have been dead. Remove the death row bit and I think he would have ended up the same.

My drafting manual beckons, so I will read that, and probably get just as angry.


ps Security word 'Hangemhigh'

Lawminx said...


We have Hijacked poor Mel's Blog! She will want to have BOTH of ustaken out and Shot! ( how ironic!)

Thank you kindly for your compliments though I must say I am matched in my adversary by your good self!

To the points, then

1: Questions of Human Rights and the jurisprudence/philosophy of same pre date the 1800's - one has only to consider Greek and Roman Literature to note that such a question has dogged mankind for more than a couple of hundred years.

2:Not only should it be done lightly, it should not be done at all; you couch your argument from the position that everyone who is sentenced to death should be executed because they are guilty. Further not every country excersing the death penalty indulges, if thats the word in a fair trial. In some countries, the decision to execute someone is taken INCREDIBLY lightly.What ever happened to the presumption of innocence before guilt, or of the quality of Mercy ( not that a life sentence in some jails can, or indeed should be. construed as merciful. If an individual goes to jail, he goes there to be punished, not to be indulged as if he were staying in a hotel)

3: From which perspective are you considering prison? Soley the UK, or on a global basis?

4:Im glad we've agreed!! Children suffer the most appaulling Human Rights Abuses.

5: Agree to disagree - our concepts of Justice are different!

Perhaps John Grishams Guy was screwed up because he'd spent an interminable ammount of time on death row, and perhaps had been dragged to the chair/noose/table on more than one occiasion only to recieve a stay at the very last minute.
If THAT doesnt muck up your head for the rest of your life, I dont know what will.

I would hope if you read Hidden Scandal Secret Shame it would make you angry, as it should do. Our kids lead the sort of truly amazing lives that others of their generations can only dream about.....

Security word: "Portia"! :)

Swiss Tony said...


OK, So Drafting was boring and I am back!

1. Was that the same Roman times you refer to where they fed Christians to the Lions? And had slaves? And several hundred years, if not two millenium followed with slaves and serfdom? Yes, Human Rights have positively flowed through the generations.

2. Yes, if they are guilty then kill 'em. If thats the punishment carry it through.

Some countries may not have fair trials, so are we discussing Iran, China, Guatemala and Botswana, or the UK and USA?

The Germans executed 6 million innocent Jews only 60 years ago. Russia doesn't look too good. Innocent people get killed all the time, and its done with little thought or guilt. Bloody Sunday, the IRA, we are no better. But that doesn't compare to a convicted mass murderer.

Mercy? I think it should be given to anyone that (and to quote a biblical passage) truely repents. And then only sparingly. Not handed out like assignments on the BVC!

3. I was thinking UK.

In the Grisham book, he went mad through drugs and emotional torment of being innocent and in prison. I think he was listed for execution but didn't get as far as the chair. Not sure of the details now because i have had to do too much thinking since!

OK, OK, I will find the book. Goodness knows when I will find time to read it!

Mel, sorry to hijack your thread.


ps Security word 'Noose'

Lawminx said...

To re-address some of your points ( quickly, before Mel has us both bounced from the Ether forthwith!)

1: Slaves in Roman times were not without rights - they had certain proprietary and monetary rights which were, in the main, upheld. Some were held in very high esteem by their owners; some held almost 9 to 5 positions wherein, after many of their duties were completed, they were free to come and go as they pleased. This is not in any way a justifcation for slavery - far FAR from it; it is as rephrensible and disgusting a practice as the Death Penalty, but could it be that, as dire and totally DIABOLICAL as it may have seemed, Roman Slaves actually had BETTER rights and INFINATELY Better treatment, with some regard to their rights than, for example, the Sexual Slaves of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the Child Slaves of Somalia, given that the latter two nation states are very much alive and kicking in the 21st Century? Either way, from a very bASIC recognition of the rights of other people, Human Rights have grown historically and will continue to grow.

2: The right to a fair trial is all pervasive, and global. It doesnt matter where you are in the world, this is a basic and irrefutible right. So Im talking globally - and this includes the UK and the USA ( who may have come up with the principles, but dont always hold them up)

The Germans Killed 6 Million Jews, the Russians dont look too good and we are no better with respect to treatment of IRA suspects. The response to all this? The Universal Declaration and the European Convention on Human Rights - treaties which protect the individual as much as the masses, and both note that Cruel treatment and punishment (aka the Death Penalty, despite what the US Supreme court has to say on the matter) is fundementally filled with wrongness.

4: A useful standpoint to adopt ,Iwould suggest, in this era of globalisation is quite literally a comparitive one. British Justice may be filled with flaws and holes, but I think I'd rather take my chances here as a convicted criminal than I would do in, say, the USA.

What a terrible life the chap in the Grisham book had, poor soul. And all beccause of the horrors of bieng wrongly accused and sentenced to death.

I think 'Hidden Scandal Secret Shame. will drive home any of the points I've been trying to make more forcefully than I could ever hope to, Swiss. I do hope you get around to reading it.

Swiss Tony said...

Blimey Minxy, you are like a bad smell at times! Difficult to get rid of!!

1. As Human Rights began with slavery, and eleven years ago culminated in a law to protect those rights, I think we can say that human rights is developing and hasn't always been there, and only very recently in time has it been universal. Ask a Roman slave if they like their 9-5 job, or would they prefer to be free, I reckon they would plumb for freedom. So I am not convinced.

2. The right to a fair trial is good, and we have that. Therefore I agree. The rest of what you are saying is just that the death sentence is wrong. I disagree. So I am still not convinced.

3. Where did that go?

4. I would rather take my chances here than the US because their prisons look worse than ours. And we have satellite tv, computers, etc etc. We also get let out early, and given benefits when we leave. ( I would rather not go to prison at all though)

In that book (the Grisham one) the Police stitched him up. he was a bit of a wildcat, but with no evidence and quite a bit of conflicting facts, out of 30 witnesses only 1 identified him as the culprit. Surprise surprise, that witness was the one actually found guilty in the end. (Sorry if I spoiled the book for anyone!)

Where did blunt dudders go? Him arguing against you would have really set the cat amongst the pigeons!



ps Security word '10,000 volts'