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In countries with constitutions guaranteeing human rights, one’s interest should extend to an understanding of how the propriety, the fairness and the justice of the death penalty are decided in court. When is capital punishment ‘cruel and unusual’ or ‘degrading’? When does it deny ‘due process of law’ or ‘the equal protection of the laws’?
This is the first book to adopt a comparative approach to the legal validity of executions, comparing and contrasting judicial review in the courts of America, India, Canada, Cyprus, Japan, Pakistan and the Caribbean and in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The author also applies the principle of Judge Learned Hand that to answer a question of constitutional law demands at least a bowing acquaintance with the extra-legal learning of philosophy, economics and literature.
The book examines the constitutional validity of particular methods of execution, of mandatory death sentences, of discretionary death penalties and of capital punishment disproportionate to the offence. It discusses the legality of delayed executions, of executive clemency, and of the ‘State-administered suicides’ of offenders (such as Gary Gilmore) who refuse to challenge the death sentence imposed upon them.
The author discovers and develops the principles of constitutional jurisprudence that can reprieve the con- demned. The subject-matter shows the zenith of judicial potential for the protection of human rights, and the nadir of passivity into which judges too often sink.