Death Row
Lundbeck, the Danish drug company, said it will restrict the distribution of its Nembutal drug in order to prevent U.S. prisons from using it in lethal injections. Creative Common

When I heard that the subject of restoring capital punishment is likely to get an airing in Parliament later this year I thought it would be the perfect time to put together a somewhat tongue-in-cheek picture gallery based on the "I've Got a Little List" song from the Mikado.

Although the comic song --, which lists people who "would not be missed" should the need to execute anyone ever arise -- has been parodied and updated many times, the original lyrics are for the most part just as relevant as ever.

Perhaps in the picture gallery we could have had Ann Widdecombe in full Strictly mode as the "Lady from the provinces ... who doesn't think she dances but would rather like to try," or British journalist James Delingpole, the World War II and America-loving "idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this and every country but his own."

Then of course we have the "apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind." No shortage of material there either, I'm afraid.

But seeing as I did not want to be accused of incitement to murder by someone misunderstanding my intention and because some of those in the potential gallery are not really bad sorts, I thought I might as well take a look at some of the arguments surrounding the issue of capital punishment.

Four of the main arguments against capital punishment seem to be that it is uncivilized, that it is ineffective, that innocent people will die and that it kills off (literally) any chance of redemption or rehabilitation.

Of these four arguments, three are significantly flawed.

First is the claim that capital punishment is uncivilised and inhumane (a claim apparently put forward by David Cameron). True, it is not desirable or pleasant, but then one has to consider the alternatives as well.

Is the current system of "life" imprisonment for serious crimes humane? There are some who apparently oppose capital punishment, or at least favour life imprisonment, precisely because it is more inhumane than the "short sharp shock on a big black block" parodied in the Mikado.

For example, the Mail on Sunday's Peter Hitchens has pointed out that Brian Reade of the Daily Mirror said of child-killer Roy Whiting (before his identity was discovered), "If they ever catch whoever did it [the murder], hanging is too good for him.

"A life spent dodging razor blades in his food, needing an armed guard whenever he takes a shower, fearing every night if he will get his throat slashed tomorrow is a more fitting punishment." As it happened another child-killer, Ian Huntley did have his throat slashed while in prison last year, a point not lost on Hitchens.

The Telegraph blogger Ed West has also said he favours life imprisonment over execution on the grounds that the former is crueler. He said, "Peter Hitchens has long since argued for the return of capital punishment on the grounds that mandatory life sentences are crueller -- I agree with him on the reasoning, which is why I'm against capital punishment."

As well as the fact that life in prison is arguably crueler than execution, there is also the factor that serious criminals can in fact do rather well out of being in prison. Levi Bellfield, who killed at least three people, certainly deserves to be on any "little list" that ever gets made and yet at the moment he is trying to get £30,000 of taxpayer's money in compensation for being attacked by another prisoner.

It could well be argued that giving a murderer £10,000 per victim is more uncivilised than hanging him, certainly it flies in the face of any notions of justice.

Finally when capital punishment is described as uncivilized it should be remembered that we are no longer talking about burning at the stake or hanging, drawing and quartering, but of a relatively quick death done according to legal process with trial by jury. That of course does not make it a pleasant business; a human life is still destroyed.

Moving on to the argument about the effectiveness of capital punishment, numerous studies, facts and figures suggest that the threat of the hangman's noose does in fact have a deterrent effect.

For example in the last decade, 12 studies were conducted in the U.S. looking at the impact capital punishment had on crime rates, of these nine found that capital punishment saved lives, according to the Telegraph's Tim Stanley.

Hitchens also points out that when the death penalty was suspended in Great Britain in 1948 and 1957 the use of firearms by criminals increased as did serious crime itself. Clearly capital punishment will not deter all wrongdoing but there is evidence that it does deter some would be criminals and is therefore effective in its aim.

Thirdly there is the charge that if capital punishment were brought back innocent people will be executed as a result of miscarriages of justice. For many this is the clincher argument, yet it too is flawed.

Sadly, it is true that even with the most careful attention to legal process and the most advanced forensics, it is likely that at least one innocent victim will die if capital punishment is brought back. This makes it a rightly powerful argument against the return of execution.

Yet we see that innocent people may already be dying thanks to the absence of capital punishment. One study from Emory University, cited by Stanley, suggests that 18 murders are prevented for every one execution.

If such figures are even close to true, then opponents of capital punishment must ask themselves whether they think it better that 18 innocent people die at the hands of criminals so that they can feel good about themselves or just one innocent person die at the hands of the state. One might also point out that the 18 criminal murderers are less likely to be concerned than the state about the painlessness or not of thir victim's passing.

It can also be noted that opponents of capital punishment often seem more than happy to engage in other policies in which innocent people die. David Cameron, for example, is quite willing to let innocent as well as guilty Libyans die as a result of NATO airstrikes aimed at saving civilian life.

No doubt he feels the loss of innocent life in Libya as a result of NATO bombing is regrettable but necessary in the cause of saving a greater number of lives. What is that, though, if not an argument for capital punishment? Yet strangely, while Cameron embraces this concept of killing to save lives on an international level, he brands it "uncivilized" when applied domestically.

Finally, we come to the fourth and best argument against capital punishment: That there is no redemption.

If Levi Bellfield was strung up by his neck tomorrow, he would never have a chance to realize the seriousness of what he has done, nor would he have a chance to make amends. Sadly, the most serious criminals rarely seem to show much remorse for what they have done and even when they do, how can anyone know if they are sincere?

One interesting case is that of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Comrade Duch" -- one of the more murderous members of the Khmer Rouge. After the fall of the despicable regime he served he became a devout Christian and is one of the few members of the old regime to have accepted responsibility for his actions.

He has also said he would like to seek the forgiveness of his victims and claimed that if he was sentenced to be stoned it would be a just punishment for his crimes.

Of course it could all be an act aimed at getting sympathy. The same could be said of other murderers who have apparently changed and devoted their lives to good works, yet one cannot discount the possibility that even the most evil individual can change.

Capital punishment might give the guilty the chance to change their hearts and minds (indeed the prospect of imminent death may help them to do so) but it provides almost no chance to change their ways. Much like Marley's Ghost the reformed murderer is condemned to want to right his past wrongs but to always be unable to do so.

If a serious criminal, even one as bad as Comrade Duch, fully realises what they have done and is filled with remorse and determination to give back at least some of what they have taken away is executed, could it be argued that a fundamentally good man has been executed?

But then could it not also be argued that such a man might even believe that his own execution is just, as perhaps Comrade Duch implied in his remarks about stoning?

Whatever the answer to those final questions the debate on capital punishment when it comes, is bound to be interesting even if, as is likely, there is no change in the law.