Death and Democracy: the Right to Vote a Life Away

07/08/2011 23:03 BST | Updated 07/10/2011 10:12 BST

I was surprised to see the restoration debate rear its ugly head in Britain at this time; as Tottenham burns, fuelled by detestation of the police; as the man labelled a murderer for having a comb-over is compensated; as some of our most senior police resign amidst corruption allegations; as Sam Hallam's murder conviction is referred for review; and most saliently, as the legal aid budget is drastically cut. I was surprised to see that in spite of this, we might be willing to trust such institutions, politicians, lawyers and police, with the task of execution. In so doing, we leave ourselves open to having our most fundamental right, the right to life, eroded.

Throughout history, minorities have been massacred and those people opposing governments have been persecuted. As such, the power imbued in governments, and the unbridled authority commanded by the majority has been diluted to ensure that no matter the majority, there are some things which are inviolable, which will always be allowed, these things which we must be able to take for granted in order for us to maintain a peaceful society. These things, our human rights, are inherent, or must be understood to be, if we are to prevent repeating history. If the right to life can be extinguished with a vote, then it was never a right to begin with, it was a privilege, to be given and taken away by the powers that be.

This is not to say that the topic is off limits, indeed, if 100,000 votes for restoration of capital punishment are registered, then it is probably time for an informed discussion. However, although an open forum is obviously required to expose the facts about capital punishment, it is also important to clarify that democracy is more than simply 'the vote'. There are some things which are beyond 'the vote' and the fundamental right to exist must be one of them.

Since abolition there have been some 14 restoration debates in parliament, the last resulted in a vote of 403 to 159 against capital punishment's reintroduction. This current eruption in interest has already illustrated a lamentable lack of knowledge and understanding of capital punishment issues, across the board. As such, parliament should take this opportunity to engage in an open and evidence-based discussion, tackling the real concerns central to the death penalty debate, such as crime reduction and victim services. Whilst the death penalty evokes strong emotions there is no excuse for peddling the mythology of capital punishment adopted by some MPs - they mislead their constituents and should be ashamed of themselves.

Capital punishment discourse is complex and not reducible to an opinion poll or law and order debate, it is farther reaching than that and has the capability to effect the fundamental power dynamic between individuals and the government. Individual rights are inherent and history has taught us that democracy must be more than simple majority rule, encompassing protection of the minority from the majority in order for it to be a peaceful and open democracy. As tempting as it may be to deny the right to life of some, in so doing, your right is negated also.