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Guest Lecture on "Death Penalty: Developments in Europe"
Last Modified:  2009-04-16 09:21:37
On the evening of April 8th, 2009, Hans-Jörg Albrecht, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg, Germany, was invited by CESL to give a lecture entitled "Death Penalty: Developments in Europe" in Room 305 of the Mingfa Building. This is the first guest lecture at CESL. Prof. Ninon Colneric, Co-Dean of CESL, hosted the event. Prof. Yue Liling from the School of Criminal Justice at CUPL, as well as more than 100 students were present at the lecture.

Prof. Albrecht began by briefing the audience on the five integral components of his lecture, namely, the roads to abolition of the death penalty, abolition of the death penalty and identity building in Europe, legal developments concerning the death penalty, the European policies and discourses around the death penalty, and the conclusion of the lecture.

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Starting from the penal thoughts in Becaria's work Delle deliti e della pena (1764), Prof. Albrecht introduced the three phases of the abolition of the death penalty in Europe, respectively, post-French revolution, post-WWⅿand post-Eastern Europe transition. Prof. Albrecht listed various roads of European countries to the abolition of the death penalty, for example, abolition after an extended moratorium in the UK, Belgium and Cyprus, abolition after death penalty was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in Hungary, parliamentary abolition after a rapid political transition in Austria, Germany, Spain and the Eastern European countries, constitutional prohibition to reinstate the death penalty in Germany, France, Ireland and Slovenia. In this process of abolition, there were three main policy actors: the European states as the performers of domestic criminal law reforms, the Council of Europe as an international promoter and the EU as a supranational organization promoting the abolition both internally through Community law and externally through foreign relationships. The European Court of Human Rights, as an example given by Prof. Albrecht, implied its objection to the death penalty through interpretation of Art. 2 & 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights in the cases Soering and Öcalan v. Turkey.

Prof. Albrecht considered that abolition of the death penalty is a strong symbol of a new Europe, strengthening the common European identity and morality. The abolition policy represents shared experiences, namely experiences of totalitarian regimes, a secular understanding of the world and mistrust towards a centralized and absolute state power. He further explained five arguments for the abolition of the death penalty: firstly, the conversion of man from subject to object of law in the death penalty infringes human dignity; secondly, it is difficult to get under control the discretion in imposing and executing the death penalty, which leads to a possible detraction to legal equality; thirdly, there is always the possibility of wrongful death sentences; fourthly, no convincing scientific statistics can prove that crime trends are influenced through the threat, imposing or enforcement of the death penalty, which have consequently to be regarded as disproportional and give way to other well-developed alternatives; lastly, surveys show that public support for the death penalty is actually easy to be swayed by the media.

Concluding his lecture, Prof. Albrecht reconfirmed that the death penalty, regarded as a cruel and inhuman punishment infringing the right of life and dignity of man, is now abolished completely in Europe. This common abolition of the death penalty has become a symbol of European identity. In the current social and economic state of development, the threat and enforcement of the death penalty is unnecessary. Public support for such a penalty is not a convincing ground to refrain from abolition.

After the conclusion of the lecture, Prof. Albrecht answered questions from the present student audience.

PPT of the lecture by Prof. Albrecht.