ABSTRACT

To carry through a great piece oflaw reform on a controversial issue, bound to arouse the profoundest emotions and prejudices of the masses, one needs both strong personal convictions and the most thorough scientific preparation. This applies to legislative no less than to tank battles. While strong personal convictions cannot be requisitioned at will, research can be instigated by Government action. When the new national insurance scheme reached its first preparatory stage during the war, Sir William (now Lord) Beveridge was asked by the Minister concerned to submit a report. On our problem, no research worth mentioning was set in motion by the Government in connection with the introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill although it was clear from the beginning that the question of capital punishment would become a burning issue in the course of the parliamentary proceedings. It might be retorted that a considerable amount of valuable information had already been collected by the Select Committee on Capital Punishment which reported in 1930. However, this material has inevitably become out of date in many respects. Nor were the methods employed by the Committee of the standard required for scientific purposes. Particularly unsatisfactory is, at least as far as conditions abroad are concerned, the technique of relying almost exclusively on oral or written evidence by ad !we witnesses, instead of studying first and foremost the vast amount of printed material already in existence in most countries-a procedure which, though more laborious and time-consuming, is more likely to yield reliable results. This does not mean that the traditional technique employed by Royal Commissions and Departmental Committees is

Surely, this is a most important point. It is hardly more than a commonplace to say that any reasonable debate on the punishment for murder should be preceded by a painstaking enquiry into the

psychological, physical and social characteristics of an adequate sample (at least a few hundred cases) of persons who have committed murder and into the causes and motives of their crimes. This sample should include not only an adequate proportion of murderers found insane but, as far as possible, also data about those who committed suicide (in 1946, the last year for which figures have been published, in thirty-one of a total of 1 13 cases of murder of persons aged one year and over, the murderer or suspected murderer committed suicide).1 Only by means of such an analysis can we expect to obtain some objective data on such points as the frequency of premeditated, 'cold-blooded' murder, the degree of 'moral wickedness' involved, perhaps even on the potential deterrent effect of the death penalty, and many others. Illustrative cases supplied by those distinguished speakers who took part in the recent parliamentary debates, either from their own judicial experiences or from second-hand sources such as press reports, useful and impressive as no doubt they are, can in no way take the place of the comprehensive study which we have in mind.