Master of the rope
Thursday, November 1, 1990
Justinian in Deja Vu, Lord Denning, capital punishment

Lord Denning's nutty lunge for the history books as he unpacks his dark side ... Capital punishment ... Birmingham Six ... Lesbianism  

Denning: had some changes of mind

MY Old friend Tom Denning (Lord to you) has hit the nail on the head about capital punishment.

In August 1990, The Spectator asked him whether it must have felt terrible putting the black cap on his head?

Tom: Not really

Spectator: You had no feeling at all about this?

Tom: Oh, no. There could always be a reprieve if it was a proper case.

Spectator: Nevertheless, were you glad to see the death penalty abolished?

Tom: Not really. It ought to be retained for murder most foul. We shouldn't have all these campaigns to get the Birmingham Six released if they'd been hanged. They'd have been forgotten, and the whole community would be satisfied.

Spectator: But would justice have been satisfied if the wrong men had been hanged?

Tom: (chuckles) No. There is always that danger.

Spectator: If they had hanged the Guildford Four they would have hanged the wrong men wouldn't they?

Tom: No. They'd probably have hanged the right men. Not proved against them, that's all.

And as for homosexuality, Tom wasn't at all enthusiastic.

Spectator: Do you regret the change in laws relating to homosexuality?

Tom: Oh, I don't mind 'em not being in prison, but I hate it being put on a par with other things. And lesbianism ... Oh no! I'm still against it. 

Later (it seems in 1993), Denning changed his mind about capital punishment, maybe too late for some of the punished: 

"Is it right for us, as a society, to do a thing - hang a man - which none of us individually would be prepared to do or even witness? The answer is 'no, not in a civilised society'." 

It's not clear that he changed his mind about homosexuality or lesbianism. 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (
See website for complete article licensing information.