Professor Jon Yorke worked with Hannah Gorman, the former Associate Director of the Centre for Human Rights, (now the Director of The Balanced Justice Project at Florida International University’s College of Law), to bring together the Bar of Ireland, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and the Paris Bar Association for an amicus curiae brief on comparative perspectives on capital punishment to be filed on behalf of the death row inmate, Shonda Walter in Pennsylvania, USA.
The brief was drafted in conjunction with Professor Speedy Rice of Washington and Lee University School of Law and Mr. Mark George Q.C. Barrister, Garden Court North Cambers, and we presented a comparative law argument for the US Supreme Court to grant certiorari to hear Shonda Walter’s appeals against her capital sentence. The Summary of Argument stated:
Amici urge the Court to consider the evolving standard of decency demonstrated in the recent history of abolition of the death penalty in relevant common law countries when deciding on the Writ of Certiorari submitted by Petitioner. International and foreign authorities are of value in this Court's Constitutional analysis of the death penalty because it allows consideration of how other jurisdictions have dealt with this issue.
Common law jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, Ireland and Australia have decided that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment that goes against the basic ideals of the Right to Life and human dignity, and is inherently flawed in its application. The same reasoning is applicable to the Eighth Amendment and compels a determination that the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments bars the use of the death penalty in the American legal systems.
We concluded by stating:
Amici have focused their argument on key common law jurisdictions whose legal process finds reflection in the U.S. legal process. In each of our sister jurisdictions, even with substantially different cultural, economic and social experiences and challenges, the death penalty has been rejected as having no place in a modern, evolved humane society.
In particular, the United Kingdom has historical and lengthy legal kinship with the United States and a legal history viewed with respect by this Court. “The United Kingdom's experience bears particular relevance here in light of the historic ties between our countries and in light of the Eighth Amendment's own origins. The Amendment was modelled on a parallel provision in the English Declaration of Rights of 1689, which provided: ‘[E]xcessive Bail ought not to be required nor excessive Fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual Punishments inflicted.’ ”
The Eighth Amendment's prohibition on “cruel and unusual” punishment must be determined as those words find meaning in the U.S. Constitution and its evolving standards of decency. As Justice Chaskalson wrote for South Africa, so it is true for this Court in analyzing the Eighth Amendment:
“The question is not, however, whether the death sentence is a cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in the ordinary meaning of these words but whether it is a cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment within the meaning of section 11(2) of our Constitution.”
However, Justice Chaskalson also stated:
“The international and foreign authorities are of value because they analyse arguments for and against the death sentence and show how courts of other jurisdictions have dealt with this vexed issue. For that reason alone they require our attention.”
For the reasons expressed by Amici, we respectfully ask this Court to grant the Petition for Writ of Certiorari in order to find, in all cases, the imposition of a sentence of death violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments.
The legal brief for this case can be found here.