29th April 1964
Guernsey abolishes the death penalty for murder

Guernsey abolished the death penalty for murder in 1964. It was one year ahead of the United Kingdom.

Although convicts had been sentenced to death in the interim, nobody had been executed on Guernsey since John Tapner’s hanging 110 years earlier.

The States of Deliberation held a two-hour debate on its new Homicide Act on 29 April 1964. The vote on abolishing hanging for murder had come at the end of its reading. 34 voted in favour of bringing the practice to an end. Nineteen voted to retain it.

The move had been instigated by the Bailiff, Sir William Arnold, who proposed that it be replaced by life imprisonment. He called the principle of hanging “untenable” and, as reported in the Birmingham Daily Post, noted that “the trend in most civilised countries is against such a spectacular form of retribution”.

Death penalty officially abolished

The exact wording of the abolition, as included in The Homicide (Guernsey) Law of 1965 is,

1 (1) No person shall suffer death for murder and a person found guilty of murder shall, subject to the next succeeding subsection, be sentenced to imprisonment for life.

(2) Where a person found guilty of murder appears to the Royal Court to have been under the age of eighteen years at the time the offence was committed, such person shall not be sentenced to imprisonment for life under subsection (1) of this section but in lieu thereof the Royal Court shall sentence him to be detailed during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Anyone who had already been handed a death penalty immediately had it committed to life imprisonment. According to a report in the Daily Mirror on 30 April 1964, five people had been sentenced to death in Guernsey over the previous three decades.

Guernsey technically retained hanging as an available punishment for other crimes until 2003.

Category: Guernsey History | Other events tagged ,

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