United Kingdom Marks 50th Anniversary of Death Penalty Abolition

On November 8, 1965, 50 years ago, the United Kingdom abolished capital punishment. On that date, Parliament transmitted to Queen Elizabeth II for royal assent the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act of 1965. The Act, which ended capital punishment in England, Wales, and Scotland subject to Parliamentary review after 5 years, took effect on November 9, 1965. When Parliament confirmed the Act in December 1969, the abolition of capital punishment in the United Kingdom became permanent. The movement to end the death penalty in the U.K. was spurred by three controversial executions in the 1950s. In 1950, Timothy Evans was wrongfully executed for the murder of his wife and young child. His neighbor, John Christie, who testified against Evans, was later found guilty of six other murders and confessed to killing Evans' family. Evans was given a posthumous royal pardon in 1966. In 1953, Derek Bentley was executed for the murder of a police officer during a robbery, although the actual killer was a teenager who was ineligible for capital punishment and Bentley was at most an accomplice to the robbery. Bentley's conviction was posthumously overturned in 1998. Finally, in 1955, Ruth Ellis was executed for killing her abusive lover. Her execution drew widespread public outrage and more than 50,000 people signed petitions unsuccessfully seeking a reprieve for Ellis. 

The death penalty for murder was abolished in Northern Ireland on 25 July 1973 under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973. The U.K.'s future commitment to abolition of the death penalty is further secured by its ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights. In 1983, Protocol 6 to the European Convention banned the death penalty for all domestic offenses and, in 2002, Protocol 13 abolished the death penalty in all circumstances.

(L. Blom-Cooper, "Fifty years on, the debate over what replaces the death penalty continues," The Guardian, November 4, 2015; "The Longer View: Capital punishment," BBC, November 8, 2015.) See History of the Death Penalty and International.