A matter of life and death: death penalty appeals

680 people were executed last year in 20 countries while 1,722 people were sentenced to death in 52 countries. These are huge numbers but they’re also inaccurate.

The statistics only reflect publicly available data from the 58 countries which still have the death penalty. That means they don’t take into account the thousands of executions carried out in China, for example, as it refuses to divulge the number of executions carried out each year. 

Sadly, the fate of the 24,172 people who have been sentenced to death since 2007 often comes down to four things: race, education, money and quality of legal representation. 

And that’s where charities like Reprieve and Amicus come in. While there is a moral debate to be had on the topic, Reprieve and Amicus focus their attention on providing legal support for individuals facing the death penalty and carry out public policy research. Supported by an international network of volunteer academics, barristers and law firms, they aim to ensure each client is given proper representation and that the rule of law is upheld. 

Jones Day is one of those law firms. Assisted by our US offices, Jones Day London recently finished a large piece of research for Reprieve in relation to one high-profile death row prisoner in America. Sentenced to death more than a decade ago and having had his petition for certiorari (a writ seeking judicial review) to the US Supreme Court denied, Reprieve are exploring the possibility of filing various civil rights lawsuits related to his case.

Jones Day was instructed to carry out research in this context. Having exhausted all other judicial routes to appeal his sentence, our paper discussed the likelihood of success, if any, of an action which challenges the inherently flawed clemency procedure and role of the Supreme Court Emergency Applications Clerk.

Another project we’ve just started is a comparative study of the laws on drug offences in India and Pakistan. India recently repealed the mandatory death penalty for drug offences whilst the death penalty for these offences in Pakistan is relatively new. We’re researching what led to this change in the law, what the legal and political impetus was behind the decision, and how that differs from (or could be applied in) Pakistan.

Working for Reprieve and Amicus has given us the opportunity to be involved in some complex, headline matters revolving around fascinating and unfamiliar foreign law. For the Jones Day lawyers involved, we’ve also found ourselves driven by something else: a motivation to invoke the rule of law in the hope that at least some of those 1,722 never experience the ultimate punishment.    

Naomi Miles is a trainee based in Dubai