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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do you work on the death penalty?

We believe the death penalty is a cruel and degrading punishment with no place in a civilised and modern criminal justice system.

Through the many cases that we take on, we have seen first-hand the flaws in criminal justice systems. We know that no justice system is immune from making mistakes. As with other punishments, the death penalty may be wrongly or unfairly imposed. The irreversible nature of capital punishment means that once the sentence has been carried out miscarriages of justice cannot be rectified.

Visit Amnesty International to find out more about some of the arguments against the death penalty.



Why do you focus on the Commonwealth?

Our work began in the Commonwealth Caribbean as the highest court of appeal for many of these countries remains the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. We were then able to use this experience to assist lawyers in other Commonwealth jurisdictions (for example, in Africa and South / South East Asia) in challenging similar death penalty laws (such as the mandatory death penalty) which had been inherited from the British under colonial rule.

Today, a disproportionate number of Commonwealth countries continue to retain the death penalty – 40% compared to the 27% of the rest of the world’s nations.

See Where We Work for details of all the countries we currently work in.

The USA is one of the world's biggest executioners, why don't you work there?

Whilst we often work with American academics, there are many excellent lawyers, individuals and organisations already providing legal support and working on the issue of the death penalty in the USA. With scarce resources, we do not want to duplicate work and prefer to concentrate our efforts where they are most needed.

How are you funded?

We receive funding from a range of different organisations, funds and individual donors.

We could not do the work we do without the generous support and long-term commitment of Simons Muirhead and Burton LLP, whose offices we continue to be based in and who cover our overhead costs.

See Our Funders for further information.

Do you only represent people who are innocent?

No – we believe that no one should have to face the death penalty, regardless of what they might have done. Although some of our clients have been wrongly convicted, we provide access to justice in all cases where there are fundamental human rights at stake.

What are ‘retentionist’, ‘abolitionist’ and ‘abolitionist de facto’ countries?

A retentionist country is a country which retains the death penalty.

An abolitionist country has abolished the death penalty in law and practice

An abolitionist de facto country is defined by the United Nations as one which continues to retain the death penalty in law but has not executed prisoners for more than 10 years. We also use the term abolitionist in practice, defined by Amnesty International as a country that has not executed in more than 10 years and is believed to have a policy or established practice in favour of abolition.

Which countries have the death penalty?

Over 75% of the world has now abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. For the latest global statistics and reports on use of the death penalty visit Amnesty International or Death Penalty Worldwide.

What is the mandatory death penalty?

The mandatory death penalty is when a death sentence is imposed automatically upon conviction, rather than a judge or jury deciding whether the death penalty is an appropriate sentence. It means that there is no opportunity for the courts to consider the defendant’s background or the specific circumstances of the case.

Several countries continue to retain the mandatory death penalty. The practice has been widely condemned by the international community as a violation of fundamental human rights. We have brought and supported successful legal challenges to this barbaric law in thirteen countries, and counting.

What is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC)?

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC or “Privy Council”) is the highest court of appeal for many Commonwealth countries, as well as the United Kingdom’s overseas territories and dependencies.

The court is based in London and is presided over by justices of the UK Supreme Court.

What is ‘death row syndrome’ or ‘death row phenonemon’?

Death row syndrome or phenomenon refers to the severe emotional stress experienced by prisoners facing execution on death row.

Many jurisdictions have recognised that prolonged periods spent under sentence of death can have a cruel and de-humanising effect on prisoners.

How can I support your work?

Legal work is expensive and we rely on donations and the support of our funders.

There are many different ways to support us – you can set up a regular monthly payment or make a one-off donation. You can also fundraise for us via JustGiving.

If you select us as your chosen charity on AmazonSmile, we will receive 0.5% of the purchase price of your shopping, at no extra cost to you.

See our donate page for further information

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