Should death penalty be abolished? Study presents a firm argument
The study points towards lack of uniform understanding of 'rarest of the rare'
At a time the debate on whether capital punishment should be abolished rages in the country, the study based on interview of 60 former Supreme Court judges brought out a non-uniform and rather contradictory approach by judges while awarding death sentences.
Significantly, these judges, which included eight former CJIs, had adjudicated 208 death penalty cases between them at different points during the period 1975-2016, and confirmed 92 of them. The study also goes on to expose the serious flaws in administration of death penalty in India and presents a firm argument for abolishing capital punishment.
The report showed that despite "rarest of rare" doctrine in death penalty as laid down by the SC in the Bachan Singh case, there existed no uniform understanding of the requirements of rarest of rare doctrine. "For a significant number of judges, the 'rarest of the rare' was based on categories or description of offences alone and had little to do with judicial test requiring that the alternative of life imprisonment be 'unquestionably foreclosed', said the report.
As per the 1980 Bachan Singh case, which had laid down the principles which still hold the field, death sentence can only be given in "rarest of rare" cases, offences of extreme depravity, and which shocks the collective conscience of the community. Death is also not given if there is a chance of the convict reforming.
One judge who decided nine death penalty cases in six years at the SC dismissed the entire concept of 'reformation', calling it "astrology". Another judge who presided over 13 death penalty cases in five years at SC did not see the point of reformation in serious crimes stating, "people out of habit go and do some small offences - he can be reformed a man who is determined to kill innocent persons,how do you expect to reform him?"