Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965

The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It abolished the death penalty for murder in Great Britain (the death penalty for murder survived in Northern Ireland until 1973). The act replaced the penalty of death with a mandatory sentence of imprisonment for life.

Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965[1]
Long titleAn Act to abolish capital punishment in the case of persons convicted in Great Britain of murder or convicted of murder or a corresponding offence by court-martial and, in connection therewith, to make further provision for the punishment of persons so convicted.
Citation1965 c. 71
Introduced bySydney Silverman
Territorial extentEngland and Wales and Scotland
Royal assent8 November 1965
Commencement9 November 1965[2]
Other legislation
Amended byCriminal Justice Act 1967, Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1973, Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1974, Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975, Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, Criminal Justice Act 2003, Armed Forces Act 2006
Relates toNorthern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973.
Status: Amended
History of passage through Parliament
Text of statute as originally enacted
Revised text of statute as amended


The 1965 act replaced the Homicide Act 1957, which had already reduced hangings to only four or fewer per year.[3]

The 1965 act was introduced to Parliament as a private member's bill by Sydney Silverman MP. The act provides that charges of capital murder at the time it was passed were to be treated as charges of simple murder and all sentences of death were to be commuted to sentences of life imprisonment. The legislation contained a sunset clause, which stated that the act would expire on 31 July 1970 "unless Parliament by affirmative resolutions of both Houses otherwise determines".[4] Resolutions were passed in the Commons and Lords on 16 and 18 December 1969, thereby making the act permanent.[5]

Subsequent eventsEdit

No executions have occurred in the United Kingdom since the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act. The last were on 13 August 1964, when Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans were hanged for murdering John Alan West during a theft four months earlier, a death penalty crime under the 1957 act.[3] The 1965 act left four capital offences: high treason, "piracy with violence" (piracy with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm), arson in royal dockyards and espionage, as well as other capital offences under military law.

The 1965 act did not extend to Northern Ireland, where Westminster seldom overrode the criminal law responsibility of the Parliament of Northern Ireland at Stormont. During the Troubles Westminster passed the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, abolishing Stormont, and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, abolishing the death penalty for murder there. The death penalty was not fully abolished in the United Kingdom until 1998 by the Human Rights Act and the Crime and Disorder Act.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The citation of this Act by this short title is authorised by section 3(1) of this Act.
  2. ^ The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, section 3(4)
  3. ^ a b Seal, Lizzie (12 March 2019). "A brief history of capital punishment in Britain". BBC History Magazine. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  4. ^ Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, section 4
  5. ^ Hansard: HC Deb 16 December 1969 vol 793 cc1297, HL Deb 18 December 1969 vol 306 cc1264-1321; "On this Day; 1969: MPs vote to abolish hanging". BBC. 16 December 2008. Retrieved 25 June 2017.

Further readingEdit

  • Brian P. Block; John Hostettler (1997). Hanging in the balance: a history of the abolition of capital punishment in Britain. Waterside Press. ISBN 1-872870-47-3.

External linksEdit