Template:Refimprove Template:For Licence to kill has at least two meanings. It can be defined as:

  1. An official sanction by a government or government agency to a particular operative or employee to initiate the use of deadly force, presumably in furtherance of the government's aims or policies, or in carrying out the operative's assigned missions and presumably in an assassination or covert context rather than in an overtly military context.[1]
  2. An executioner's sanction to terminate the life of the person being executed. An executioner's licence to kill has a limited scope, as it is issued only for the sole occasion of an execution. In this sense, a licence to kill is a form of legal immunity: killing is part of said individual's official duties, and they cannot be legally sanctioned for their acts, just as (for instance) police are not liable for speeding tickets during car chases.

The idea of a licence to kill is popularly known from the James Bond novels and films, where it is signified by the "00" designation given to the agents in the series who are licensed to kill; Bond himself is famously agent 007. The term has been used at least once by a headline writer.[2] In reality, the legitimacy of deadly force usage from country to country is generally controlled by statute law, particular and direct executive orders, the common law, or military rules of engagement. In Britain, the Intelligence Services Act 1994[3] authorizes the secretary of state to grant immunity from British prosecution to personnel when they engage in any acts abroad that would be illegal under British law, such as murder.[4]

With the popularity of the James Bond films and the phrase being used as a tagline in the series, and an imitation James Bond film Lindsay Shonteff's Licensed to Kill in 1965, Mad magazine printed a drivers licence type card for Bond as a basis for other celebrities being granted licence to do the things they were most known for (e.g. "Jerry Lewis License to Nauseate"). A similar concept took place in a comedy skit on Cedric the Entertainer Presents where Bond and a supervillain both realise that their licence to kill has expired and race to be first to renew their licence at a state registry office.[5]

During the 16th and 17th centuries, civilian ships on the high seas were given letters of marque by a nation-state to attack enemy shipping, in effect legalized piracy, a variation of a licence to kill.

The actual existence of a "licence to kill" is debated. Some feel that the term is a mere literary device, popularized by novels and films, while others believe that such a licence exists in at least some countries, whether in the military, police or counter-intelligence services. In the literary sense, the licence is presumed to be a discretionary one; distributed rarely and requiring extensive training to obtain, granted only to a handful of covert agents of a state in the interest of national security. The agent is not necessarily expected to kill enemies as part of a mission, but may receive immunity from prosecution (in his own country) if in the agent's estimation, this became necessary to complete it.

See alsoEdit


  1. CIA's License To Kill from CBS News on the CIA having been granted a "license to kill" (US spelling) with meaning essentially as given in the first definition.
  2. Template:Cite news
  3. Intelligence Services Act 1994 (c. 13), section 7 from Office of Public Sector Information
  4. Template:Cite news
  5. Episode summary from

External linksEdit

  •, "Is revived CIA 'license to kill' overkill during war?" editorial from USA Today editorial arguing against the CIA "licence to kill" authority (November 6, 2001)
  •, Foreign Correspondent: Pakistan - Licence to Kill, a BBC television documentary about murder of women in Pakistan in situations involving divorce or adultery
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