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Death Penalty in The UK

Three things you can still be hanged for in England, plus one offense still punishable with death by longbow.

Way back in the deep and murky past of the late 20th Century, the British Government wisely decided to stop executing people. Public hangings were at one time a form of free entertainment for the masses, but in more enlightened times hangings became private and then… stopped. Understand the important distinction here that the death penalty was not “abolished”; it was just stopped, in a typically polite and English way. Rather than change the law, it was mutually decided by the authorities that they should stop with the hanging.

There are still three offences in the UK that could, potentially see a person dancing the Tyburn Jig on the end of a rope.

  1. Piracy of the High Seas

    Believe it or not, British sea captains both military and civilian still have the right to hang pirates from the yard arm. This means the off-and-on row over fishing rights in the Irish Sea with Spanish fishermen could one day turn quite suddenly nasty.

  2. Attempt to Assassinate Royal Family Member

    High treason attempted (or indeed, successful) Assassination of a member of the Royal Family still carries the death penalty in the UK.

  3. Blasphemous Libel

    This offence concerns implying or stating in any recorded medium or public performance that Jesus was gay. It pops up every few years in connection with arty theatrical productions concerning Himself, and there have on occasion been calls from the religious right in England for writers, directors and producers to be hanged. Fortunately, the English religious right are considerably weaker than their American counterparts and the offending plays are usually banned, without recourse to the noose.

There are also a couple of old laws as yet un-repealed that are punishable with death:

In the town of York, a medieval curfew against the Welsh is still in effect, although not enforced; the punishment for being Welsh within the town limits is to be shot full of arrows. There are also a number of towns in the north of England with similar curfews against the Scottish, specifying that it is the duty of all townsmen to shoot dead with a longbow any Scotsman seem within the town limits after dark.

Finally, although no longer on the statutes, it used to be illegal to be French in the UK; the most prominent example of this law being enacted was in Cornwall, where a lynch mob mistook a sea captain’s pet monkey for a French sailor. Incidentally, medieval French law held that animals were equally liable as human beings; this led to a number of pigs and goats being executed for bestiality and witchcraft.

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  1. Samuel Z Jones

    On February 23, 2008 at 3:44 pm


    Two recent changes in the UK:

    First, there’s currently a call to re-institue the death penalty after two luridly high-profile murder cases.

    Second, while you can’t be executed by a court, you can effectively be shot dead in the UK on suspicion of being a terrorist. Charles De Menezes was shot seven times at point blank range for the heinous crime of running to catch a train; there have been some 30 fatal shootings by police in the last year, without a single investigation or suspension of the officers concerned.

  2. Alan Wood

    On August 12, 2008 at 8:27 am


    Firstly your ‘facts’ are complete fiction and therefore renders everything null and void.
    The supposed city whereby a Welshman can be killed by longbow after curfew is Chester.
    There is currently no offence by which one can be hanged.
    It seems so pointless to spend so much time writing rubbish when, with a little work, you could actually write something factual.

  3. Samuel Z Jones

    On August 26, 2008 at 9:08 am


    Thanks to Alan Wood there for supplying one of the various cities still with medieval curfews in force.

    I don’t know where Mr Woods gets his information, or indeed what it is, since he declines to give his own facts. I will add, however, that the article is (and I had thought obviously so) tongue-in-cheek; the information given is true to my knowledge but is not intended to be taken as a serious piece to be sneered at by those who presume to know better.

    Some facts that have arisen since the article was written however:

    High Treason is no longer a hanging offence. The law was changed in 1998 by Tony Blair and HM The Queen, because selling England’s sovereignty to the EU was proscribed under those self-sale Treason laws.

    Among various crimes carrying a de-facto death penalty in the EU is running from a policeman. You may have trouble getting a copy of the Lisbon Treaty, but they are out there; in that and other EU documents, police are permitted to use lethal force if a suspect flees. For anyone wondering why that’s a big deal… that’s WHY no policemen were charged for shooting Charles DeMenezes; under EU law, he committed a (de-facto) capital offense.

  4. wes

    On January 29, 2011 at 12:17 am


    I think if they definately did the crime especially crimes against children or senseless murder.. I think they should be able to execute them

  5. Joseph heeley

    On August 23, 2011 at 9:23 pm


    i think that the death penalty should be re-enstated, any one who murders, pedophiles and common scrubbers and menaces! and especially anyone who tries to harm the queen! fuck the EU, were always bailing one of them out we dont need them! police should always be aloud to use measurable force and parents teatchers etc should be able to slap their children when there being little shits too. this country has no decent laws! christ it doesnt take a genious to work out that if someone thinks they could be put to death they WILL think twice about going against the law! RANT OVER lol but death penalty should be brought back! sorry for my attrotious spelling but im 11.
    over an out.

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