Lizzie Seal’s talk draws on qualitative research into responses to the death penalty in mid twentieth-century Britain. This research was conducted from letters members of the public sent to successive Home Secretaries, and from the Mass Observation Capital Punishment Survey 1955-6, which included an open-ended question on what influenced respondents’ views on the death penalty. The findings reveal that public views need to be understood as complex and ambivalent. Certain capital cases, especially those where there appeared to be strong mitigating factors or where the condemned’s guilt was in doubt, were contentious and caused anxiety about the death penalty. The importance of understanding how the particular elements of specific cases shaped responses to capital punishment will be examined.

Florence presents data from a study of public opinion on the mandatory death penalty for murder in Trinidad. It was commissioned by The Death Penalty Project and carried out by Prof. Roger Hood and herself (Hood & Seemungal, 2011). A survey of 1000 randomly selected Trinidadian adults interviewed on the issue  revealed 89% supported the  death penalty for a person convicted of murder of which 26% favoured the mandatory death penalty and 63% favored it at the discretion of the court. Those who supported the death penalty completed a sentencing task for three types of murder; a gang-related murder, a drug-related murder, and a domestic-related murder. ‘Two ‘scenarios’ of each type was presented, one with an aggravating factor and one with a mitigating factor’. In no case with an aggravating factor was the proportion who thought that death was the appropriate sentence, exceed 71%: and less than half chose the death penalty in a case with mitigating factors. Twenty percent chose death for all three cases they ‘sentenced’, lower than the 26% who initially supported the mandatory death penalty. The findings are consistent with studies using this methodology (e.g. Malaysia, Hood, 2013).

Lizzie Seal is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at University of Sussex. Her research interests are in the areas of historical, feminist and cultural criminology. She has published three monographs – Capital Punishment in Twentieth-Century Britain: Audience, Justice, Memory (Routledge, 2014).

Florence Seemungal, PhD Psychology – Joint author on capital punishment (Hood & Seemungal, 2006; 2009; 20011). The publications can be viewed at http://www.deathpenaltyproject.org/legal-resources/