In June 2003 PHR-UK ran the first of two presentations on the death penalty, the first attended by lawyers and doctors; the second which took place in May 2004, by scholars at Westminster University who were researching the death penalty. The three speakers presented medical evidence supporting the case that capital punishment amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment proscribed in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, with the intention of, having rehearsed and refined the arguments, presenting them to the UN Human Rights Committee, in Geneva.
The rationale is that international law, which provides an absolute prohibition of torture in human rights laws, is a living instrument that must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions. Thus, early decisions that certain behaviour did not amount to torture might be viewed differently now
Dr Harold Hillman, a pain specialist who represents PHR-UK on the Foreign Secretary’s death penalty panel, described the physical pain experienced by those being executed during different methods of execution currently employed. Dr Rob Ferris, a forensic psychiatrist from Oxford, addressed the mental pain associated with the death penalty. Peter Hall contrasted the process of execution with the paradigm of a death taking place in a hospice.