27 JANUARY 1956, Page 8

IT IS OBVIOUS that the object of Murder, a pamphlet

prepared by a committee which includes three MPs who voted for hanging last year (and published by the Inns of Court Con- servative and Unionist Society at ls. 6d.). is to buy off the agita- tion against capital punishment. Mr. J. E. Simon, QC, MP, the chairman of the Society, writes : 'The law of murder needs investigation and reform irrespective of the issue of the debate on Capital Punishment; but that debate cannot profit- ably be conducted until such reform has taken place.' Clearly, `profitably' means a debate in which the committee's side no longer gets much the worse of the argument. (Using the word in its more normal sense, there was a most profitable wireless talk on this subject by Mr. H. L. A. Hart the other night.) But I agree with Mr. Simon that much of the debate now is profitless. Last week the Tablet wrote : The reformers neglect the late Lord Halsbury's precept, "whatever you exaggerate, you weaken," when they prefer Scandinavian or New Zealand statistics to the longer established consensus generalis of the human race that the death penalty is a deterrent.' It is rather remarkable to manage to get four false implications into one sentence : (1) The reformers do not rely merely on sparsely populated countries like New Zealand but on heaVily populated states like Belgium and Michigan. (2) The use of the Latin translation of 'general agreement' does not conceal the fact that there is no such agreement, general or otherwise—or thirty-odd States would not have abolished the death penalty for murder. (3) Even if there were such a consensus it would not follow that it was well founded. There used to be a con- sensus that the sun went round the earth. (4) The reformers do not say that the death penalty is never a deterrent to any crime. It may or may not be. They merely point out that it has been abundantly shown that it is not a special deterrent to murder. The pamphlet Murder is, of course, less tendentious than the Tablet and it makes several sensible recommendations, but it is still an attempt to save the death penalty. However. I think it is too late to start tinkering with hanging, and even after the reforms the hangers would still get the worse of the argument. Mr. Simon and the Committee have got the matter the wrong way round. The right procedure is to abolish the gallows and then reform the law of murder.