Capital punishment is a legal infliction of the death penalty, in modern law, corporal punishment in its most severe form. The usual alternative to the death penalty is long-term or life imprisonment.
The earliest historical records contain evidence of capital punishment. It was mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi. The Bible prescribed death as the penalty for more than 30 different crimes, ranging from murder to fornication. The Draconian Code of ancient Greece imposed capital punishment for every offence.
In England, during the reign of William the Conqueror, the death penalty was not used. By the end of the 15th century, English law recognized six major crimes :treason, murder, larceny, burglary, rape, and arson. In early American colonies the death penalty was commonly authorized for a wide variety of crimes.
The abolition of capital punishment in England in November 1965 was welcomed by most people with humane and progressive ideas. To them it seemed a departure from feudalism, from the cruel pre-Christian spirit of revenge: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Many of these people think differently now. Since the abolition of capital punishment crime - and especially murder - has been on increase throughout Britain.
The classic moral arguments in favor of the death penalty have been biblical and call for retribution. DEFENDERS of capital punishment have also claimed that society has the right to kill in self-defense.
OPPONENTS have replied that the death penalty can be the result of a mistake in practice and that it is impossible to administer fairly.