16 JUNE 1877, Page 2

On Tuesday Sir Eardley Wilmot raised a somewhat poor and

certainly very unsatisfactory discussion in the House of Commons on capital punishment, by moving a resolution that "it is de- sirable to consider -whether the laws under which offenders undergo capital punishment should not undergo revision," to which Mr. Pease moved an amendment declaring for the complete abolition of capital punishment. Sir Eardley Wilmot had, of course, no difficulty in showing that some crimes which are now technically murder, and therefore punishable with death,—for in- stance, purely accidental killing as an incident in the course of some unlawful action,—ought not to be punished by the highest penalty of the law, and we hardly know why the original resolution was defeated by so large a majority (130 against 61), since neither the Attorney-General nor the Solicitor-General really traversed Sir Eardley-Wilmot's statement. The real hinge of the debate was, however, Mr. Pease's amendment, which was defeated by 155 votes against 60, both Mr. Bright and, if we understand his speech rightly, Sir William Harcourt, supporting Mr. Pease, as well as his seconder, Sir IL Jackson. Of course, the difficulty of discriminating the guilt of one kind of murder from another, the danger of reprieving the worse criminal on the plea of lunacy and executing the leas guilty for whom no plea of lunacy could be advanced, and the argument that while the severer punishments have deterred less, the milder punish- ments have proved at least as deterrent as the more terrible, were urged over and over again ; while the deterrent effects of the punishment of death, and the necessity of restoring it after it had been abolished in Tuscany, were pleaded on the other side. But on neither side did there appear to be any conception of any distinct principle on which the penal law should proceed.