[Answered] The Supreme Court’s decision to frame uniform norms for trial courts in awarding the death sentence is a welcome intervention. Elaborate.

Introduction: Contextual introduction.
Body: Explain why the Supreme Court’s decision to frame uniform norms for trial courts in awarding the death sentence is a welcome intervention.
Conclusion: Write a way forward.

India seldom executes death row prisoners, reserving it for truly “rarest of rare” crimes such as 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai or the 2001 attempt to storm Parliament or the Nirbhaya gangrape-murder. Nevertheless, trial courts hand out dozens of death penalties every year. The Supreme Court in Bachan Singh v State of Punjab upheld the death penalty and introduced the “rarest of the rare” safeguard.

A welcome intervention:

  • Law Commission Report: 2015 report recommended abolition of death sentence except in terror-related cases. Over 144 countries have either in law or practice abolished the death sentence.
  • Increased legislation: Raising the procedural bar in imposing capital punishment creates a crucial balance between total abolition and active advocacy of the death sentence.
  • Focused on vulnerable: According to Project 39A, 76 percent of such prisoners belonged to SC, ST and OBC, or religious minorities and over three-fourths were from economically vulnerable and over 62 per cent did not complete secondary school.
  • Liberal use: Laws that prescribe the death penalty range from IPC 302 (murder) to the anti-terror UAPA to the amended POCSO Act. But trial judges interpret these statutes too liberally.
  • Legal assistance: Poorer convicts often don’t receive quality legal assistance and a capital punishment for an innocent is an irretrievable miscarriage of justice.
  • This order is necessitated due to a difference of opinion and approach amongst various judgments, on the question of whether, after recording conviction for a capital offence, under law, the court is obligated to conduct a separate hearing on the issue of sentence.
  • The trial court made no attempt to elicit relevant facts, nor did the trial court give any opportunity to the petitioner to file an affidavit placing on record mitigating factors.

As SC’s guidelines are often ignored by trial courts such as the case of sedition law, Section 66A of the IT Act, so, the constitution bench must not only settle the matter quickly but also ensure lower courts follow its rules.

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