The Global Decline of the Mandatory Death Penalty: Constitutional Jurisprudence and Legislative Reform in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Global Decline of the Mandatory Death Penalty

Constitutional Jurisprudence and Legislative Reform in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, 1st Edition

By Andrew Novak


200 pages

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Historically, at English common law, the death penalty was mandatory for the crime of murder and other violent felonies. Over the last three decades, however, many former British colonies have reformed their capital punishment regimes to permit judicial sentencing discretion, including consideration of mitigating factors. Applying a comparative analysis to the law of capital punishment, Novak examines the constitutional jurisprudence and resulting legislative reform in the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South and Southeast Asia, focusing on the rapid retreat of the mandatory death penalty in the Commonwealth over the last thirty years. The coordinated mandatory death penalty challenges - which have had the consequence of greatly reducing the world’s death row population - represent a case study of how a small group of lawyers can sponsor human rights litigation that incorporates international human rights law into domestic constitutional jurisprudence, ultimately harmonizing criminal justice regimes across borders. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the study and development of human rights and capital punishment, as well as those exploring the contours of comparative criminal justice.


’Novak provides a thorough comparative study of the movement away from the mandatory death penalty towards discretionary sentencing in Commonwealth countries, about which we know little. While much of the book deals with contemporary jurisprudence, legal analysis is discussed within an historical and sociological context that is informative and engaging.’ Carolyn Hoyle, University of Oxford, UK ’Professor Novak has made an enormous contribution to the eventual abolition of the death penalty, in an incisive study of one of the more insidious aspects of it: its mandatory nature in many states that still retain it. The rationale for the prohibition of mandatory sentences to death - so ably explained in these pages and famously embraced by the US Supreme Court in Woodson v. North Carolina - is quickly establishing itself as a rule of international human rights law.’ Juan E. Mendez, Washington College of Law, USA ’Even after formal abolition of the death penalty in the United Kingdom in the 1960s, the toxic legacy of mandatory execution was a threat to penal justice and human rights in many nations tied to the common law tradition. This book tells the story of the litigation and advocacy that has removed the ugly shadow of mandatory capital punishment from most common law nations.’ Franklin E. Zimring, University of California, Berkeley, USA 'This book is deeply researched, well written, original, and insightful. It makes a major contribution to scholarship showing the death penalty’s downward trajectory, and in a short concluding chapter it also suggests three broad implications that follow from the study.' Law and Politics Book Review

About the Author

Andrew Novak is an adjunct professor of African law at American University Washington College of Law and an adjunct professor of criminology, law, and society at George Mason University, where he teaches international and comparative criminal justice. He received a Master of Science in African Politics from the London School of Oriental and African Studies and a Juris Doctor from Boston University School of Law. His articles on the death penalty in Sub-Saharan Africa have appeared in journals such as the Suffolk University Law Review, Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law, Richmond Journal of Global Law and Business, Indiana International and Comparative Law Review, and Boston University International Law Journal.

About the Series

Law, Justice and Power

Law, Justice and Power
To speak about law is always and necessarily to be engaged in a discourse about both justice and power. While law's relationship to justice is everywhere contingent and uncertain, law completely divorced from power is unthinkable. And, while law need not be virtuous to be law, if it had no effect in the world it could hardly be said to merit the name law. Recognizing these facts, the series on Law, Justice and Power takes a broad view of legal scholarship.It publishes books by social scientists, humanists and legal academics which connect an understanding of culture's normative ideals with examination of the complex ways that law works in the world, insist that justice is inseparable from social practices and analyze law as one form of power, one way of constituting, controlling and changing the social world. It focuses on state law as well as law in communities and cultural practices and on identities and their articulation in and through law, on law's power in the taken-for-granted world, on its role in the complex construction of nation and national power and on global developments which today destabilize and transform the meaning and significance of law. The series invites innovative scholarship that crosses disciplinary as well as geographic and temporal boundaries.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Criminal Law / General
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Human Rights