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Britons 'E-Petition' for Death Penalty Return

A general view shows the Houses of Parliament, in central London, May 25, 2011 (file photo)

A general view shows the Houses of Parliament, in central London, May 25, 2011 (file photo)

Hundreds of Britons have petitioned their government to reintroduce the death penalty in a new government Internet scheme that was launched Thursday. "E-petitions" that get enough signatures may be debated in parliament.

The leader of the House of Commons said Thursday that if enough people call for Britain to restore the death penalty it should be discussed by lawmakers.

That could be good news for those who signed an online petition Thursday hoping to bring capital punishment back and for a handful of MPs who voiced their support. Ahead of the online petition, Conservative MP Andrew Turner said it's the "proper punishment" for some serious crimes.

Neil Durkin, a campaigner at the international human rights group Amnesty International, disagrees.

"It would be taking the United Kingdom back against the main current, the very strongly running current of the abolition of the death penalty around the world," said Durkin.

Capital punishment is one of a number of issues that have been petitioned in an online government scheme. Other subjects petitioned were for Britain to leave the European Union and for the absolute right to self-defense in one's home.

Any petition signed by more than 100,000 British citizens will be considered for future debate in the House of Commons.

Durkin says it's very unlikely the death penalty will be reintroduced.

"All the indicators are if we have MPs and members of the House of Lords in the U.K. debating this issue, they will almost certainly resoundingly reject any such notion that there should be a reintroduction of the death penalty," Durkin added.

The last execution took place in Britain almost five decades ago. But it's remained a rallying point for some in the British public.

Andy Williamson, Director of the Hansard Society's Digital Democracy program, says he's not surprised that capital punishment is topping the e-petition.

"Whenever you introduce a system like this it unlocks the floodgates and you get these very populist causes," Williamson noted. "You will get one about immigration. You will get one about the death penalty. You will get one about decriminalizing or legalizing drugs. They're the ones you expect to see."

Some people have criticized the scheme, saying it allows special interest group to push their causes up the parliamentary agenda and wastes MPs time debating subjects that won't pass into law.

Other critics say e-petitions are a false form of democracy.

Williamson describes petitioning as "democracy-light" but says it's still important.

"It's an absolutely vital part of democracy. Democracy is a continuum. The thing we are most familiar with and most of us do is vote. But we only get to do that about every four or five years, as far as parliament is concerned. And I think what's really important is the democracy that happens in between," Williamson added.

But he says it's important that MPs take the petitions seriously. He says there's a tendency to treat them as a gimmick.

In 2007, almost two million people in Britain signed a petition against government plans to introduce toll roads.