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Report No. 35

Chapter XV

Execution of Sentences

Topic Number 58(a)

Method of execution of death sentence

1093. Method of execution of death sentence.-

We now come to the question of the method of execution of the sentence of death. At present, the sentence of death is carried out by hanging. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, requires1 that when any person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that he be hanged by the neck till he is dead.

1. Section 368(1), Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.

1094. In the great majority of countries, there are three methods of carrying out the death sentence, namely, hanging, electric chair and gas-chamber. Hanging is used in the United Kingdom, certain countries on the Continent, Canada, Australia and generally throughout the Commonwealth, six States of the United States of America and some countries in Asia.1

1. For details, see U.N. Publication Capital Punishment, (1962), p. 23, para. 59.

1095. Electrocution is used in 24 States of the United States of America, and in Philippines1 and in Cuba.2

1. In Philippines, provision is made for hanging if the necessary equipment for electrocution is not available.

2. See U.N. Publication Capital Punishment, (1962), p. 23, para. 61.

1096. Gas-chamber is used to carry out the sentence of death in eleven States of the United States of America1. In Spain, strangulation is used2.

1. See U.N. Publication Capital Punishment, (1962), p. 23, para. 62.

2. See U.N. Publication Capital Punishment, (1962), p. 23, para. 62.

1097. The modes of execution in the various states of the United States of America as in 1960 were as follows1:-

By electrocution-Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illionois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia (21).

By lethal gas-Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma (using electrocution until gas chamber is completed), Oregon, Wyoming (12).

By hanging-Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Washington (6).

By Hanging or shooting (condemned man's choice)-Utah.

Since 1960, three more States appear to have adopted electrocution2. Decapitation seems to be the method in force in France, and in some other countries3-4. Execution by firing squad is practised by some countries, important amongst which are Morocco, the Central African Republic, Chile, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Greece, U.S.S.R., and Yugoslavia; and in Utah (U.S.A.) the person sentenced to death has the choice-between hanging and firing squad5.

(In Canada, the Attorney-General or the Governor can, it appears, order execution by the firing squad in cases of treason or crimes against national defence)6.

Though hanging still remains the most prevalent method, it must be noted that the course of events in other countries shows that it is being slowly abandoned. Thus, while in 1930, 17 States of the United States of America used to employ it, only six States have now retained it. Again, while it was in force in Yugoslavia before 1950, it was replaced by firing squad in 1950.7

1. See U.S. News and World Report, March 7, 1960, p. 52, reproduced in Mc Clellan Capital Punishment, (1961), p. 11.

2. U.N. Publication Capital Punishment, (1962), p. 23, para. 61 gives the number as 24.

3-4. See U.N. Publication Capital Punishment, (1962), p. 23, para. 60.

5. See U.N. Publication Capital Punishment, (1962), p. 23, paras. 60-62.

6. See U.N. Publication Capital Punishment, (1962), p. 23, para. 59.

7. R.C. Report, pp. 246 to 260, and conclusion, p. 261, para. 749.

1098. In England, the Royal Commission went into this question in great detail. The Commission stressed the criteria which had to be taken into account (in deciding which method should be adopted), namely, humanity, certainty and decency1. Under "humanity", further, there were two essential requirements, namely, first, that the preliminaries to the act of execution should be as quick and as simple as possible and free from anything that unnecessarily sharpens the poignancy of the apprehension of the person; and secondly, that the act of execution should produce immediate unconsciousness, passing quickly into death2.

After studying the actual time taken at various places in carrying out the process of hanging and other methods of execution, the Royal Commission came to the conclusion that so far as experience in the United Kingdom went, hanging took less time than the time taken elsewhere in other methods and caused immediate unconsciousness, and was followed quickly by death. The Royal Commission had not full evidence about electrocution and lethal gas, but there was nothing in the evidence placed before it to justify the conclusion that either of these two methods was less humane than hanging, in terms of the speed and painlessness with which unconsciousness is induced.

As regards "certainty", the Royal Commission stated that the equipment required for hanging was simpler than that required for electrocution or lethal gas, and no mishaps had taken place in England dating the last 50 years. Lastly, regarding "decency", the Commission stated that because of the distortion caused to the body, the pain caused to the relatives on seeing it, would be more severe in the case of hanging than that caused by other methods. But, while hanging was tainted by the memory of its barbarous history,. "gassing" was tainted by more recent but not less barbarous associations.3

1. R.C. Report, p. 248, para. 707.

2. R.C. Report, p. 253, para. 724.

3. R.C. Report, p. 255, para. 732.

1099. We may now refer to the discussion in the Canadian Report. The Canadian Committee1 considered the merits of four different methods of execution, namely, hanging, electrocution, gas-chamber and lethal injection. The last mentioned method, which was stated to ensure instantaneous and painless death, could only be accomplished by intravenous injection, for which skill was required, and the Committee considered that it would not be reasonable to expect a medical doctor to perform a task so repugnant to the traditions of the medical profession.

Moreover, an intravenous injection could not be administered unless the condemned person was entirely acquiescent. Hence it was rejected. As regards hanging, the Committee noted that hangings in Canada were not conducted with the same degree of precision as in the United Kingdom, and that sometimes there was no way of knowing how death was caused and whether the loss of consciousness had been instantaneous. Moreover, the Committee sensed from the evidence given before it that hanging was regarded generally as an obsolete, if not a barbaric method. It, therefore, proceeded to consider electrocution and gas-chamber.

In its opinion, which was based on the evidence of independent medical experts, electrocution was the most satisfactory method, and the Committee recommended that the law be amended to replace hanging by electrocution. This was based on the premise that modern methods of electrocution could produce instantaneous unconsciousness and painless death, without the evil effects traditionally associated with the electric chair (like burning and mutilation). However, if further investigation created doubt as to possibility of employing electrocution, then, the Committee considered, it would be preferable to substitute the gas-chamber.

1. Canadian Report, pp. 21 and 22, paras. 89-94.

1100. The relevant section of the Criminal Code of Canada is1 section 642, which provides that the sentence of death should direct that the person sentenced should be hanged by the neck until he is dead. The section does not appear to have been amended to carry out the recommendation of the Committee.2

1. Section 642, Criminal Code of Canada.

2. Certain other recommendations of the Committee have been carried out by the amendments made in 1961 in the Criminal Code of Canada.

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