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A UK Perspective: World Day Against the Death Penalty

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The UK and the U.S. have been the closest friends and allies for a long time. But that doesn't mean we always agree. Indeed, the hallmark of a true friendship is the ability to be candid with one another on points of disagreement. Today, the eleventh World Day Against the Death Penalty, is an opportunity to reflect on an area where the UK and U.S. don't quite see eye to eye.

The UK abolished the death penalty in 1969. Since then, it has been the policy of successive UK governments to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle. All 28 members of the European Union and many other countries agree.

We should never forget the victims of violent crime or the suffering of their families and friends. But there is no evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect, and any miscarriage of justice obviously cannot be reversed. Since 1973, more than 130 people have been removed from death row in the US in the light of evidence of their innocence.

The death penalty is also very expensive. Capital trials and keeping prisoners on death row are particularly costly. For example, taxpayers in California have spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment since it was reinstated in 1978, or about $308 million for each of the 13 executions carried out since then.

Fortunately, there is a worldwide trend towards ending the death penalty. In 2012, 21 countries carried out executions -- a drop of more than one third over the previous decade. In the U.S., there is a growing trend away from capital punishment with six states abolishing the death penalty in the last six years, most recently Maryland in May this year.

So there has been considerable progress, but there is more work to do. In the U.S., 32 states retain the death penalty as a form of punishment, and 28 people have been executed in 2013 so far. In November 2012, Californians narrowly voted to retain the death penalty (Proposition 34). But a swing of only 3 percent would have resulted in a different outcome.

The UK will continue to campaign for the abolition of the death penalty around the world. Here in the U.S., the British Embassy and our network of Consulates across the county will maintain their engagement with state governors and legislatures to argue against all forms of capital punishment. The death penalty will remain a highly charged and emotive issue. But through committed leadership, those who support abolition can bring about change. That is the UK's aim and we will continue to work towards it.