The Death Penalty and Ireland

high courtThe former President of the High Court, Mr. Justice Richard Johnson has called for the Irish constitutional ban on the death penalty to be “reconsidered”. This follows on from recent debate in the U.K. (See Pádraig’s post on this here) and also from Channel 4’s recent documentary, The Execution of Gary Glitter. Article 15.5.2 of Bunreacht na hEireann prohibits the Irish parliament from “…enacting any law providing for the imposition of the death penalty.” No person has been judicially executed since 1954 (see here), although it was possible for executions to take place for certain offences until 1990, and a number of persons had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Mr. Justice Johnson argues that the nature of crime in Ireland has changed and “if the people want it [the death penalty] they should have it.” His comments have been criticised by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) who have branded them as “misguided and frivolous” and noted the implications for EU and Council of Europe membership.

Mr. Justice Johnson’s views are more worrying for the majoritarianist arguments in favour of violating human dignity at the will of the majority and aided by a willing judge and jury. As Baroness Hale has stated, “[d]emocracy values everybody equally, even if the majority does not”. The views of the former President of the High Court should be challenged on these grounds. No matter how heinous a crime, be it “ordinary” murder (whatever that is), murder committed by armed robbers, padeophilic murder, crimes against humanity and/or genocide, society as a whole should not lower itself to the level of those who commit such barbaric acts. Human rights protect all equally, not just those who are “like us”, but also to those who committ the most grievous of human rights abuses.

(Photo Credit,