Treason remains the only legally viable excuse to hang. Considering that the Crown Prosecution Service is unlikely to bring on a case for treason against any individual, we shall be spared the medieval repeat of dark retribution. The arguments for hanging someone on the ground of treason is perhaps twice as heinous to those who would like rapists, murderers and shoplifters persecuted by hanging from the noose - 'let this be a lesson to the odious scumbags!'. Yet the principal argument against hanging is that it does not work as a deterrent to would be perpetrator of such crimes as treason. There might be greater powers at play. The terrorist bomber might be driven to one's destructive state of mind by following alternative philosophies. On a lesser scale, the rapist, murderer (whether predetermined or accidental) and shoplifter had never been deterred by even the mere prison term, fixed penalty and in their day, the ASBO.
The nature of punishment is that it always takes place after the criminal act had taken place. E. M Forster rued over how christening, wedding and funeral always took place after the physical acts of birth, coitus and death, striking too early or too late to really add any realistic meaning to the events. Perhaps, Forster, writing in the years before the Great War was taken in by a spirit where the celebratory nature of such events for those associated with the individual had not been properly taken into account. I for one would add the greatly emancipating event of graduation to the group of irrelevant events. Getting a 'first' in Philosophy is itself an achievement and needs no further accolade. Yet the day is served up on a photographic frame as a permanent reminder on the proud living room of middle class parents up and down the country. The reader might argue whether the gravity of getting a first, being born, getting married or death as acts could ever be compared to committing a crime. Yet these are all events where the act of working hard, physical communion on the part of the parents to bring about new life, falling in love (one shall ignore all the other reasons for getting married) and death are never really premeditated under reasonable circumstances. Coitus might well be initiated over a period to conceive, a first might be studied for, death could be the result of a lifetime of poor lifestyle choices making the body prone to incurable disease or mere exhaustion, and a crime can be planned, yet the punishment does not really dawn on the individual before they are committing the act.
The principal difference between committing a crime and the other acts is that the criminal punishment is never celebrated by the one being punished. Not in the normal criminal circle that is and for the purposes of this discussion we shall refrain from referencing the masochist. The other events, christening, wedding, funeral and graduation might well be. However, christenings and weddings are affairs of hope. It is hoped that those involved would have a long, joyous and righteous life under the gaze of a watching creator. The criminal is expected to rot in jail or be hanged. We need never look back upon their lives as positive events even if they had been christened, graduated and married. Death, whether initiated immediately through the direct play of state legal machinery or a line on page 5 of the Independent is as close to a ceremony.
Miscarriages of justice is never really a consideration when the jury or judge is sentencing. The scope of the legal framework is that it can only examine evidence and the sentence is delivered based on available evidence. This process is exactly the same when the criminal is contemplating the act of crime. The ability to get away with it might play a part but any future punishment after having been caught is not in mind as the crime is being committed.
Either way, the death penalty is long buried under the ashes of Derek Bentley, Guildford Four, Renault Five and Birmingham Six. The various arguments have lost any semblance of meaning in every quarter but the staunch right wing Daily Mail reader's breakfast table.