Is An ‘Eye For An Eye’ Just, Or Does It Violate The Fundamental Human Right Of The Right To Life?


The purpose of this paper is to discuss and present the illustration of different aspects, which are associated with the capital punishment. It has been established that another phrase is commonly used for the capital punishment, i.e., “eye for an eye”. The analysis of the study, which was conducted by shows that there are different opinions, about capital punishment, in different school of thoughts. In accordance with the views of some of the people, capital punishment is the fair and just approach, as it helps in controlling crimes, within the society. On the contrary, capital punishment is considered as the violation of human rights, in some school of thoughts. It has been recognised from the assessment of the study, which was carried out by that people, who are affiliated with the political grounds,are usually in the favour of the capital punishment.In other words, it can be stated that political workers intensely support. On the other hand, different religious groups have different opinions about this approach; some of the groups aggressively deter or oppose this capital punishment (or death penalty). However, other religious groups are in the favour of capital punishment . One of the major factors behind these contradictions includes certain differences in different religions. After considering these differences, the researcher has intended to examine and analyse whether ‘eye for an eye” just or it infringes the basic rights of humans.

In this account, the proceeding sections include the elaboration of the core concept of the “eye for an eye” . More so, the analysis of the notion of capital punishment is also encapsulated in the proceeding paper. It is significant to bring into the notice that this study is mainly focused on the United Kingdom; thereby, different cases are also included in the paper, which are mainly related to the circumstances, where the decisions of capital punishment were justified.

An eye for an eye is a law of retaliation which refers to the principle of penalising the person to the same degree as to with which he has injured another person. This law has been in practice since long. A number of religions approve of this law of ‘an eye for an eye’, recommending the same punishment for the offender as he has caused to the victim. A number of laws and punishments have emerged from this law, and one major law regarding this concept is capital punishment. This paper will discuss the concept of ‘an eye for an eye’, capital punishment, human rights and how this concept violates the basic human rights. The two different views and arguments of this concept will also be presented in this paper.


Eye for an Eye – A Concept

The concept of ‘eye for an eye’ is referred to as lex talionis in Latin or Law of Talion. These terms do not mean ‘eye to eye’ in literal terms, but apply to the broader class of the legal system which formulate penalties. These penalties are usually for specific crimes, which are categorised according to their severity. When law and legal systems were being established, the concept of eye for an eye was very common and thus was included in the law. According to this law, if a person has killed another person, the killer would also be killed as a punishment. Although, a number of people approve of this law, there are people who argue that killing someone is violating their right to life.

This concept has also been approved by a number of religions and has been mentioned in the Holy Books, as well. The Bible and the Holy Quran are two of these books. According to Christianity and Islam, a person committing a crime should be punished exactly in the same manner. If he murders a person, he should be murdered too. It should be understood that these principles are not formed to promote hatred or violence among people, but to make people think twice before committing such crime . When such punishments are practiced in the society, the offender or the criminal will think of the punishment he will face, when caught. Thus, the larger picture should be understood before understanding the concept.

Since the revelations, this punishment has been legal in many places. Even today, people consider this punishment as one of the most effective in the legal system. There is no doubt that the concept of eye for an eye in the legal system has reduced the rate of crime in the society. If a person is caught for crimes such as robbing or theft, according to religious law, his hands should be cut off. Additionally, public prosecution of such offenders is another reason behind the reduction of crime rate in many societies and countries, especially where this law is practiced.

The law of retaliation or an eye for an eye can be understood as the principle in which an individual who has harmed another individual is penalised or punished to a comparable degree. In this regard, it has been stated by that eye for an eye is nothing more than the approach, in which a victim gets the projected value of the damage, in compensation. It has been established from the analysis of the study, which was presented by that an eye for an eye is one of the ancient theories, which are related with apt criminal punishment and has continued in the contemporary saying. It is due to the fact that it resonates with a number of individuals. It has been documented in the research of that the approach of eye for an eye is the best method to punish or penalise someone. It is because, instead of sitting in lockup, it is essential that the criminal vigorously learn what they have done to others. Eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth is the most suitable method to make a person realise about the offense, which have been done by him/her to someone else.

Capital Punishment – A Concept

Capital punishment, execution, or death penalty can be understood as the punishment by death. In other words, it can be asserted that capital punishment is nothing more than the verdict or judgement, which is related with the punishment of an individual in a form of death sentence. It is significant to bring into the notice that criminalities that can result in the death penalty or capital punishment are referred capital offences or capital crimes. The analysis of different studies and researches have revealed the fact that death penalty has been practiced by various different civilizations, as a religious or political dissidents and penalty for criminals . It is one of the noticeable aspects that traditionally, the carrying out of the death penalty was usually accomplished by agony. In addition to this, executions were usually accomplished in public . Capital punishment, commonly known as death penalty is one such punishment which is a result of this law. According to law, a person killing or murdering another person is subject to death himself. However, a number of people believe that capital punishment is unethical and immoral as no one has the right to take a life. According to the opponents, capital punishment denies people of their basic right to live; however, they forget that a person killing another person has already taken away the right to life of that person. A huge debate on the same topic continues and it is still being argued that capital punishment, which is a result of the law an eye for an eye, is just or a violation of the basic human rights.

According to the United Nations General Assembly there should be an end to the death penalty and human rights organizations agree that its imposition breaches fundamental enshrined human rights norms. The UN argues that capital punishment is a violation of the fundamental human rights due to which a number of precious lives are lost. It has been termed as cruel and inhumane by a number of people. According to these people, death penalty should be abolished and should be turned to life sentence instead . Lives of the criminals should not be taken, instead they should be punished for the rest of their lives by spending the rest of their life in jail. Different countries have taken different steps to reduce and ultimately eliminate capital punishment. In few countries, the number of executions has reduced over the past few years. This has helped them in understanding the human rights in a much detailed and in a better manner. Various countries have been attempting to reduce the concept of death penalty and are trying to abolish it in wake of violation of human rights. Other countries are working on developing solutions for reducing crimes which lead to capital punishment. These include counsel sessions and psychological treatment of the criminal . This has helped the countries a great deal in reducing crimes in their country; however, it is impossible for the authorities to identify all offenders and provide them with treatments or make them attend sessions. Thus for them, the punishment remains the same; capital punishment.

It should be noted that when adopting other solutions for reducing crime rather than resorting to capital punishment, the accountability to the international community increases. This is due to the fact that the law and the system has a solution to such crimes and for such offenders i.e. capital punishment. However, in order to reduce this practice and to abolish it completely from the legal system, countries are adopting other solutions so that people living in the country can practice their basic fundamental rights. Although the impact and affect of capital punishment has never been discussed nor has it ever been proved, but to practice human right to life, the concept of capital punishment needs abolishment. The assessment of different researches has revealed the fact that a number of opinions exist against and in support of this method of eye for an eye. Majority of the people thinks that capital punishment is simply the violation of fundamental human rights and the desecration of right to life . The opponents consider capital punishment as the wickedest violation of human rights. It is due to the fact that one of the biggest rights of human beings is to live their life, which has given by the God. On the other hand, capital punishment apparently aims at seizing this right .

Apart from this, various activists of human rights have intensely condemned death penalty and assume it to be the degrading, inhuman, and cruellest punishment. In addition to this, several antagonists have also stated that capital punishment is nothing more than the practice, which undermines the dignity of human beings. On the contrary, the supporters of capital punishment consider this act as the fair and just activity, as such practices help in minimising the crime rate in the society. In accordance with the views of the supporters, death penalties built the fear of death in criminals and prevent them from taking life of others . However, commonly capital punishment is considered as the violation of human rights and right to life.

Fundamental Human Rights

When the United Nations was formed, six decades ago, discussions were made on limiting the country’s powers of what they could do their citizens. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That was the time when the people all around the world had suffered and experienced the brutality of World War II. Thus, in order to curb the consequences and help the people to protect their basic rights, the UN decided to adopt and formulate certain statements and declarations which will be in the interest of the people. Thus, the basic human rights were formed . The basic pledge and purpose of the Universal Declaration of the United Nations is to promote fundamental rights as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace. Basic human rights are not the property of the State that they can award or present their citizens for their good behaviour and neither can they take away from the citizens when they exhibit bad behaviour. These are the right of the people which cannot be taken away from them in any case. Additionally, fundamental human rights limit the powers and actions of a state that they may display to the citizens of the state. The concept of an eye for an eye completely violates the fundamental human rights, irrespective of the offenders’ actions. Thus, it is important for the state to realise the importance of the basic human right to life before deciding on any such punishment. The method of execution prisoners is not important and neither the death penalty can be separated from the issue of human rights. Thus, it is said that the human rights should be of prime importance for every person and every state. This is the reason that the movement for abolition of death penalty has been carried out in a number of states.

According to the United Declaration, ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ Similarly, Amnesty International views the death penalty as violation of human rights. Self defence is a completely different perspective under which it is allowed to take life of others. There are exceptions in such cases. These cases include times when a country is in locked in warfare or when the law-enforcement agencies have to act immediately in order to save their own lives or to protect the lives of the people . The use of lethal force in such situations is accepted as it is also backed by the international community. By initiating such actions, the country avoids all damages that it has been threatened to face. On the other hand, death penalty is a completely different action and cannot be compared to self defence is any manner. Death penalty is a threat to life to a person who has done the same in his life or has committed a serious crime. According to the United Nations and the proponents of human rights, an offender or a criminal can be dealt with less harsh means as compared to death penalty. According to them, there is no justification for cruelty or torture or for the inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment. An execution constitutes a lot of pain, mental, as well as, physical and leaves the person dead psychologically before much before he is hanged. Same is the case with torturing a person. Thus, according to the United Nations, adopting such practices does not show any sanity. Another argument that the United Nations puts forward is that this punishment does not contribute to the greater good of the society . It has been argued that capital punishment helps in reducing the crime rate and the number of murders has reduced; however, according to Amnesty International, no proper and concrete evidence has been presented yet showing the reduction in the murder rates in different countries. When governments argue in favour of capital punishment, they say that this punishment helps in building fear in the hearts of the murderers and ensures that they do not commit the same crime again, but the statistics suggest otherwise. No proper report has been presented yet which shows the reduction in the crime rate or specific crimes due to which right to life has been taken away. With the passage of time, the crimes have only increased and so have their severity. Human and child trafficking is one of the most horrendous crimes of the modern world, and even capital punishment has not helped to curb this crime . Thus, according to United Nations this punishment should be abolished so that the right to anyone’s life is not taken away. Another aspect that can be taken into account is of human nature. When a person is restricted or prohibited from something, he becomes rebellious. He commits the same actions from which he is prohibited due to his rebellious nature. Even punishment does not work in such situations. Thus, the concept of the United Nations should be understood and the abolition of this penalty and punishment should be supported. The right to human life should not be taken away by any government or state. The states are responsible for making sure that they help their citizens to lead a life that is safe and secure and that the environment they live in helps them in ensuring that they are able to create better living opportunities for the people of their country. A number of institutions and people believe that curbing the rate of murders and imposing death penalty is not the only solution that the world needs at this point of time. There are a number of other important issues that need attention and that should be solved. According to the South African Constitution Court in 1995, ‘We would be deluding ourselves if we were to believe that the execution of … a comparatively few people each year … will provide the solution to the unacceptably high rate of crime…. The greatest deterrent to crime is the likelihood that offenders will be apprehended, convicted and punished.’

Right to Life in UK and Abolishment of Capital Punishment

Different countries have different laws pertaining to the society and environment in which the company operates. Laws in the United Kingdom do not promote death penalty and even the step of abolition of this inhumane punishment was taken by the country just after the Second World War. Since then, the country has always stood up for the abolishment of this punishment and has always taken steps at the international level to reduce the number of executions and let people exercise their right to life. It is important for the international communities that they work closely with the British government to resolve this issue and come up with a solution. Death penalty is contrary to the current international legal obligations of the United Kingdom. In October 2010, a strategy related to the Global Abolition of the Death Penalty was formed with the below mentioned goals :

  • To further increase the number of abolitionist countries, or countries with a moratorium on the use of the death penalty
  • Further restrictions on the use of the death penalty in retentionist countries and reductions in the numbers of executions
  • To ensure EU minimum standards are met in countries which retain the death penalty

With this strategy in mind, the committee met a number of times to discuss as to how the goals have to be achieved and what has to be done in order to reduce the number of executions. The committee decided that it would start with three countries, Japan, Kenya and the Caribbean. With focus on these three countries, strategies would be formed in order to make sure that the goal of capital punishment abolishment is met. With these goals in mind, the committee has been informed and asked to ensure that capital punishment should be eliminated from the law and should be implemented only during exceptions, which are, in times of war or threat of war. The European Convention on Human Right (ECHR) was incorporated into the UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. This banned the capital punishment for murder except in times of war or during threat of war. In 1999, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw signed the Sixth Protocol of the ECHR which formally abolished the death penalty in peacetime in December that year. However in 2002, the ratification of Protocol 13 completely abolished the capital punishment in Britain .

Speaking on an ethical level, death penalty is a complete violation of the fundamental human rights of a person. As stated by ECHR, death penalty is a state sponsored murder and is morally unacceptable as it is equal to the crime committed by the criminal/offender. The rules and regulations set by the country point to the fact that capital punishment should not be a part of the law except for times in war . There are people in the government who still favour the capital punishment and agree to the concept of an eye for an eye, thus it will be a challenge for the government to stick to its decision of abolishment of death penalty. It is essential for the people to understand that capital punishment is not only a punishment for the offenders, but also a violation of the human right which takes away the right to life. Violation of human rights is an escalating issue that all international communities are fighting to resolve. Countries that approve of death penalty are being invited in international conferences and meetings to make them aware of the human rights and to help them understand that death penalty should be abolished or else, it will harm the whole society in future.

For the abolishment of this inhumane legal practice, a lot of work has been done by the international community and still a whole lot of work is left. Thus, it is important for the people to understand abolishment of this punishment will be in their favour. A world without such inhumane punishments will lead to a better society and lesser crime rates. What difference does it make if the government and the offender commit the same crime? All these questions need to be answered by the states and the government who support capital punishment and who approve of the concept of an eye for an eye. Proponents also argue that this concept is religiously approved and that many people should be punished for their brutal sins and crimes. But, looking at the broader picture and perspective, this punishment is equal to the crime itself. People should note and consider the intensity of this punishment before approving it and should also investigate the impacts this punishment has on the society. This will help in understanding the various issues related to this punishment and will also prove to be helpful in agreeing to abolish this punishment from the legal system.

According to Amnesty International (2012), ‘The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. It is irrevocable and can be inflicted on the innocent. It has never been shown to deter crime more effectively than other punishments.’ This finding shows that serious crimes such as murders and killings have never been curbed with the implementation of capital punishment and death penalty. It has always encouraged rebellious behaviour and with the psyche of a criminal, this punishment has always been a reason for the offenders to commit more and more crimes. Thus, it should be made sure by the countries that they work in order to help the people live a peaceful life . With the increased trend of countries abolishing this punishment from their legal system, international communities such as United Nations, ECHR, etc. are making efforts to bring countries on the same page. Abolishment of death penalty from the legal system will not only help the government, but will also send across a peace message to the people. Exceptions of implementing this punishment during war times or during threat of war will remain as it is; however, taking the right of life of a person for committing a crime will not be allowed.

Capital Punishment as Violation of Human Rights Law

The core concept of the capital punishment has been briefly illustration in the preceding section. It has been established from the elaboration that capital punishment is nothing more than the act in which offender or a criminal is sentenced to death after the final verdict of the criminal offense law court. It has been suggested by that capital punishment must be differentiated from extrajudicial executions, which are usually carried out without the predetermined procedure of law. It has been documented in the study of that capital punishment is legitimate process in which an individual is sentenced to death by the state law or the country as a penalty for an offense. One of the major objectives behind the law of capital punishment is to enlighten an idea that the criminal activities and offenses (particularly murder or put someone to death) will not be tolerated. Capital punishment is based on simple theory, which is aimed at desisting people from carrying out a particular action. Undoubtedly, death penalty or capital punishment is one of the most controversial and debatable topics in the society . It is due to the fact that the supporters of the capital punishment contend that it discourages and prevents others from reinstating to the same offenses. On the other hand, the opponents of death penalty strongly condemn this act and consider it to be the cruellest action against humanity. In other words, it can be stated that the opponents of death penalty states that this act is nothing more than the biggest violation of human rights. It has been recognised that a number of different countries are still practising capital punishment in their penal laws. This is an action that has been in the countries since the ancient signs and the residents, governmental entities, as well as the religious personnel consider it as the sign of the “Law of Moses” .

It has been established that the Law of Moses integrates a punitive approach that was categorised as a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye. However, majority of the activists of the human rights and opponents ofcapital punishment have bluntly declared this approach as an act of violating human rights and right to life . It has been documented in the study of thatcapital punishment is the one of the brutalist and curliest act against humanity. It is due to the fact that death penalty leads a person (criminal) towards losing his or her life. In other words, it can be affirmed that capital punishment grabs the right an individual to live his or her life; hence, violating the basic and fundamental human right.

Capital Punishment in the United Kingdom

It has been recognised from the analysis of study, which was carried out by that capital punishment in the United Kingdom was practiced since before the establishment of the state in 1801, till the action was eradicated in the 20th century. It is significant to bring into the notice that the last executions, which took place in the United Kingdom was the hanging of criminals. This execution was held in the year 1964. It has also been analysed that the law of capital punishment was obliterated in all conditions, in the year 1988. During the era of 2004, the thirteenth (13th) protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights turned to be the binding on the United Kingdom, barring or segregating the refurbishment of the capital punishment for as long as the United Kingdom is a part of the Convention . It has been established that sir Samuel Romilly, while addressing to the House of the Common on the death penalty in the year 1810, stated that there is no state or region on globe in which there have been several diverse crimes to be penalised with death, as in the United Kingdom, referred as the “Bloody Code”. During that time period, a number of different offenses were penalised by death or capital punishment, including being with the Gypsies or Nomads for the time period of one month, clear indication or confirmation of the malice in a youngsterhaving the age of between seven to fourteen years, and utilising a disguise, while committing offense .

In the year 1808, Romillyordered to removed capital punishment for the lesser offenders and pickpockets; hence, initiating the reform process, which was continued to the next fifty years. It has also been established that the capital punishment was mandatory (though it was altered by the governmental entities) until and unless the Judgement of Death Act 1823 granted the authority to the judges to commute the capital punishment except for the murder and treason. It was observed by the entire nation that the Punishment of the Death Act 1832 played an inevitable and indispensable role in minimising the capital offenses, primarily by the rate of two-thirds. More so, in the year 1832, capital punishment was totally abolished for forgery (except for wills’ forgery and specific powers of attorney), counterfeiting, as well as theft . The Murder Act 1965, (i.e., Abolition of Death Penalty), adjourned the death penalty or capital punishment in the United Kingdom. This Act was passed for all of the murders and criminal offenses, which were done for a time period of five years. It is significant to bring into the notice that the Act substituted death penalty with the mandatory punishment of lifetime incarceration or imprisonment . After the eradication of capital punishment, the House of Commons conducted demanded for the restoration of this legal punishment, until the time period of 1997. It has been assessed that this movement was always overwhelmed, but the capital punishment continued for other criminal activities and offenses, like piracy with violence, espionage, and causing an explosion or fire in a warehouse, magazine, ship, or naval dockyard. However, no executions or actions of death penalty were practiced in the UK for any of these crimes, specifically after the eradication of capital punishment .

It has observed that even after the suspension of capital punishment, in the year 1965, there have been continual assertions from the media cells and public entities for the restoration and reintroduction of death penalties. It is due to the fact that they consider death penalties as the biggest protector or shield for the entire society, against capital crimes and offenses. In the United Kingdom, the media as well as the civil society is intensely prompting the reinforcement and restoration of capital punishments, especially for the cases, which are high profile assassination cases . On the governmental level, the legislative bodies as well as the parliamentarians are strictly adhering to the Acts, which are related to the abolition of death penalty or capital punishment in the United Kingdom . Last execution, in the United Kingdom took place in the year 1964, in which Gwynne Owen Evans in Manchester and Peter Anthony Allen in Liverpool were executed for the assassination of John Alan West. The analysis of different facts and figures has revealed the fact that capital punishment is not being practiced in the United Kingdom. It is due to the fact that the legislative bodies and other concerned governmental entities consider capital punishment as the violation of human rights as well as the violation of the right to life . However, the in-depth assessment has also highlighted an idea that a number of different cases, took place in the United Kingdom, are associated with the circumstances in which capital punishment was justified and fair . The proceeding section incorporates the illustration of different cases, which will help in understanding the fact that capital punishment can be vindicated and justified, in few of the cases.

Cases/Circumstances where Eye for an Eye is Just

The analysis of different literature reviews and sources have highlighted various cases and circumstances, where “eye for an eye” is just. Amid all of the cases, the researcher is aimed at quoting and presenting only those cases, which took place in the region of United Kingdom. The cases are briefly described in the proceeding section, which may assist in recognising that the concept of eye for an eye is correct for various specific situations.

Case 1 – Gwynne Owen Evans at Manchester and Peter Anthony Allen at Liverpool This case was held in the United Kingdom in which a fifty three (53) year old John Alan West, a driver of laundry van, was found dead on 7th April, 1964, at his home (Workington). He was working for his company for the time period of approximately twenty five years. West used to live alone and he returned from his work on 6th April. Afterwards, during the night time, approximately at 3am, the neighbour of West got awake by the loud and extraordinary noise. When he looked out from his window he saw car moving speedily, from the street. While observing these strange and extraordinary acts and noise, he called the police. The Police opened the door of West’s house and found him dead. During investigations, it was examined that West got severely injured as his head and chest was stabbed by the criminal . Those severe injuries eventually led him (West) towards death. While performing investigations, the police officers and investigation teams found an Army Memo Form in the pockets as well as a raincoat along with a medallion. It is significant to bring into the notice that the medallion was emblazoned “G.O. Evans, July, 1961”. More so, the memo also had the named embossed as “Norma O’Brien”, along with an address of Liverpool. Norma O’Brien was a factory worker (Liverpool), having the age of seventeen (17) years. She told to the police that she met a person, named as Ginger Owen Evans, who used to wear the medallion, which was found by the police from West’s house. Right after the forty eight hours of West’s murder, police caught two men, and charged them with the murder of West. The names of those murderers were Peter Allen and John Robson Welby (Gwynne Owen Evans) .

In June 1964, both, Evans and Allen were presented at the Manchester Crown Court, for the assassination of West. During the court hearing, both Evans and Allen were asked by the judge whether it was Evans or Allen who committed assassination . It was found that both men were involved in putting the West to death; hence, they were sentenced to hanging till death. It has been assessed from the evaluation of the entire case that the decision of the judiciary, against Evans and Allen was fair and just, as they put an innocent person, (West), to death for their personal interests.

Case 2 – Ruth Ellis: Youngest Women Hanged Ruth Ellis was the last women of the United Kingdom, to be hanged in the history of the Great Britain. It has been recognised that she was amid the 15th youngest women, who have been hanged during the era of 20th century. The case study shows that in 1955, on the Easter Sunday, Ruth Ellis put Blakely to death through gunshot. This incident took place outside the public house of Magdala, in Hamsptead. It has also been examined from the case that she instantly gave herself up to the law enforcement agencies. During the hearings of the court and trails, she agreed that she has committed a capital offense (murder) and took all responsibility. It is significant to bring into the notice that she showed considerable composure and courtesy in the cells, in the court, as well as in front of the media/press. The judiciary gave their final verdict, which was based on giving capital punishment of Ruth Ellis. As a result, she was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, at Holloway Prison, which is located in London . This case is quite simple and clear, as the offender, herself took the responsibility of committing a murder of an innocent; thereby, the decision of death penalty against her was justified, correct, and fair.


This study has examined and discussed various important aspects, which are related with the capital punishment. In this regard, the core idea of “eye for an eye” has been elaborated, while illustrating the capital punishment as the violation of human rights and right to life. More specifically, the researcher has discussed this approach in the perspective of the United Kingdom, while including different case studies, in order to present more coherent analysis.

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