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Folk law | Don't spare the rod

It was only 64 years ago that all forms of judicial corporal punishment were abolished in Britain. Andrew Lugger reports

10 August 2012

The deliberate infliction of physical injury and pain as retribution for an offence has been employed since time immemorial and is still used today in some Middle Eastern jurisdictions and former British territories such as Botswana, Malaysia, Singapore and Tanzania. Here, I look at the significant changes to British corporal punishment from 1706, reflecting a period of liberal punitive reform that reached its zenith in 1948 when revulsion to physical pain in legal punishments led to the abolition of corporal punishment and formulation of a new criminal code focused on the use of prison as a deterrent and reformatory form of penalty.

In 1706, the penal authorities decided that felons convicted for burglary, house-breaking, robbery or stealing of horses, should no longer be “burnt in the most visible part of the left cheek nearest the nose” as this punishment “did not deter such offenders from further committing such...

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