Death penalty: Deciding the rarest of the rare

Source– The post is based on the article “Death penalty: Deciding the rarest of the rare” published in The Indian Express on 27th September 2022.

Syllabus: GS2- Fundamental rights provided by Indian constitution

News– The article explains the current framework for providing capital punishment. It also explains the weakness of this framework.

Recently Supreme Court acknowledged the need for re-examining the fundamental aspects of death penalty.

What is the Bachan Singh case?

Supreme Court proposed sentencing framework for death penalty. It asked courts to weigh aggravating and mitigating circumstances. It introduced “rarest of rare” category of case for capital punishment.

What are the concerns with this framework?

Different court approaches– The courts have taken differing approaches in which factors are relevant to sentencing and how best to bring in factors relevant to punishment.

The courts have different opinions about the weightage sentencing factors must receive, and the contentious role of public opinion.

Accused in death penalty cases are mostly poor. They cannot afford quality legal representation. They don’t have the resources to put before the Court meaningful mitigation information.

Santosh Kumar Bariyar v State of Maharashtra (2002)– SC judge expressed concern about the lack of uniformity in death penalty sentencing.

Channu Lal Verma v State of Chhattisgarh (2018)– SC judge Called for a relook at the constitutional possibility of the death penalty because of the arbitrariness in the process.

The Lethal Lottery in 2008 and the 262nd Law Commission of India Report in 2015 also found shortcomings in the present framework.

What are examples that show contradictions in the Supreme Court’s approach?

Manoj & Ors v. State of MP– SC set in place practical guidelines to ensure that courts have sufficient material on the accused before delivering a sentence of death at every stage of the judicial process.

Manoj Pratap Singh v. State of Rajasthan– SC does not find it useful for courts to have sufficient material on the accused.

What is the way forward?

The accused need to be given time and resources to gather and present such information in every single case and at every judicial stage.

We are required to remove the deep suspicion and biases faced by the accused person.

For further readings

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