25 June 2021
Australia’s last execution took place in February 1967.
Six years later, the Commonwealth Parliament passed the Death Penalty Abolition Act 1973 (Cth) (1973 Act). Similar State legislation outlawed the practice in the remaining Australian jurisdictions.
On 11 March 2010, with bipartisan support, the Commonwealth Parliament passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Act 2010 (Cth). This Act amends the 1973 Act to extend the current Commonwealth prohibition on the death penalty to all States and Territories. This forecloses the possibility of any individual State jurisdiction reintroducing the death penalty.
Despite this, the death penalty remains a problem for our region. Questions continue to be raised about Australia’s cooperation with foreign law enforcement agencies and the provision of police or other justice and security assistance with Australia’s neighbours and allies who retain capital punishment.
The Law Council has a longstanding policy position opposing the imposition or execution of the death penalty. Its work in this area included holding a national Death Penalty Symposium in 2017 on how government, the legal profession and others could effectively contribute to the abolition of the death penalty. In line with its policy, the Law Council has advocated strongly to ensure that Australia proactively maintains its commitment to the abolition of the death penalty not only in Australia, but across the world. This has included submissions which contributed to the development of Australia’s 2018 bipartisan Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
Recently its work has included meeting with relevant heads of Australian embassies, high commissions, and consulates, and writing to the Australian Government regarding the need for the Japan Reciprocal Access Agreement to explicitly preclude the possibility of Australian military being subject to the death penalty in Japan. In the context of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Bill 2020, the Law Council also sought assurances that Australian-sourced information will not be used by an authority of a foreign country in the prosecution of any offence for which the death penalty is a sentencing option.
This year, the Law Council’s National Human Rights Committee has undertaken to review the Law Council’s Death Penalty Policy Statement. This Policy was drafted in 2007 and requires review in light of significant subsequent legal, policy and political developments. This work is now well underway. The Law Council will be seeking the views of sections, other expert committees and constituent bodies later this year on the revised policy.
Led by its CEO Michael Tidball, the Law Council has also been pleased to meet with representatives of the Capital Punishment Justice Project, to learn more about their important work in this area. This includes facilitating legal assistance to persons overseas facing the death penalty, including Australian residents. Should the legal profession wish to find out more about how it can support this work, it can visit https://cpjp.org.au/.