Op EdsOP. ED.

If I were “death” I would be inevitable but I am not death and I fight death every day. How do I do that? Well, I go out on the road and escape moronic drivers running over people, at home I hope to survive falling roofs, accidental fires, etc. Adding to other factors, if I am not a male foetus I hope I am able to beat death even before I am born. I try and survive thoughts of self-harm and suicide. So, I survive death every day in a million ways. Interestingly, the Government wants me to live too even though it may seem like they do not care. The laws and the Constitution very categorically promote living happily, so much so that an attempt to suicide is punishable with imprisonment. One can say they are granting the death wish sending him/her to jail. Peter Cook said “One should realise suicide is a criminal offense, in less enlightened times they would have hung you for it.”  While we are talking about life, we are focused on human life here, though animals have rights too they cannot sue the offending party. So, they do not get to fight death the way humans do.

Life, a precious gift

In Hinduism life and death are the gift of God and no human being has the right to take away the said gift; in Islam, human dignity stems from the belief that man is a creation of God – the creation that God loves more than any other. There is no debate that life is the most precious thing that the human world can possess.

It is ironic that once one enters the world, one loses control over one’s life, the Government takes over in the name of the God of course. No one reserves the right to end any life even one’s own, the right reserves with God and the almighty State. Governments yield powers which even God does not presume, therefore, they have taken up the responsibility of doing God’s work and enabled themselves to end lives under the procedure established by law. Arnaud Almaric said “ask no questions. Just shoot them all, and let God sort them out”. Well, it is a little more complicated than that, at least for now. Our Constitution provides for the “Rule of Law” and protection of life and personal liberty.

Going to primitive times, the trials were bizarre. Guilty or innocent, history is replete with trials that ensured the death of the undertrial. The times have evolved and so did the trials and the sentencing. The death penalties were frequent in the early 18th and 19th centuries. However, over the period death penalties have not been the norm. The courts have relied on the facts that life and death are acts of the divine and the divine’s authority has been delegated to the courts of law to be only exercised in exceptional circumstances with utmost caution. Therefore, the first and foremost effort of the courts should be to continue the life till its natural end. This delegated authority should be exercised cautiously under extreme judicial checks. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 makes it mandatory that “when the Court of Session passes a sentence of death, the proceedings shall be submitted to the High Court, and the sentence shall not be executed unless it is confirmed by the High Court”1. The High Court is duty-bound to ensure that only after concluding that no other punishment but for death will serve the ends of justice the death penalty shall be confirmed. This shows the seriousness and thoughtfulness that our legal system puts into a decision of death. Status quo ante in terms of life cannot be obtained, therefore, it is only fair that no such decisions are taken in haste.

Reformative, not retributive

It is never the endeavour of the State or the courts to take away life. The endeavour is to achieve an orderly society while protecting the rights and liberties of the citizens. The objective of the State, through laws and penalties, is to achieve deterrence, prevention, reformation and rehabilitation. Our penal system is reformative and not retributive. Wherever there seems a possibility of reformation, the courts may be inclined to not punish with a death sentence. We have witnessed some extremely gruesome crimes. Some were punished with death sentences, while a lot of them were given life sentences while a few may have walked out of jail with some punishment. Regardless of their outcomes the nation unanimously prayed for a death sentence in a number of these cases. But the judicious minds may not have concurred with the minds of ordinary citizens. After all, they deliver justice and not revenge. Francis Bacon2 said “revenge to be a kind of wild justice that offends the law and putteth the law out of office”. Many philosophers and jurists oppose capital punishment as they find death sentences to include an instinct of revenge which is barbarous. Capital punishment in modern jurisprudence will always be a matter of debate. Reformation and rehabilitation of a criminal is the primary object of punishment. The imposition of the death penalty nullifies that purpose. Retribution in the sense of vengeance is no longer an acceptable end of punishment. It is for these reasons noted jurists even opposed the hanging of those convicted in the infamous Nirbhaya case.3  Having said that, a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court4 had unanimously upheld the validity of capital punishment by reserving the death penalty. Law helps the element of retribution merge into the element of deterrence based on the philosophy of “gravest crime deserves the gravest punishment”. The Supreme Court held that a real and abiding concern for the dignity of human life postulates resistance to taking a life through law’s instrumentality. Therefore, that ought not to be done save in the rarest of rare cases when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed.5

Rarest of rare doctrine

Sentencing follows conviction, sentence is proportional to the degree of the crime. However, there is no straitjacket formula that can be applied in awarding punishment. Everything boils to the facts and circumstances of the case. Taking an example of Section 3026 of the Penal Code which states that “whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine”, shows that not all murders deserve a death sentence. Ordinarily, courts find life imprisonment to be sufficient, but the discretion lies with the judicial minds. The cases in which a death sentence can be given are a few with a peculiar set of facts being grave and gruesome thereby falling in the category of the rarest of rare crimes. The legislature in Section 354(3)7 mandates that in case of a death sentence the court must record special reasons which show that the sentence of life imprisonment shall not be a sufficient punishment.

Rarest of rare is an expression to convey the horrific and dastardly nature of the act. The actions which shake the conscience of human existence, which affect the very existence of our humanistic values. It is more to do with the perpetrator than the offense itself, when a convict would be a menace and threat to the harmonious and peaceful coexistence of the society. The perpetrators of such acts cannot be considered to be capable of being reformed and pose a threat to society at large. Though debatable and unproven, a death sentence is considered a deterring force in the prevention of crime. The rationale given by the courts is that when a crime shocks the collective conscience of the community, sympathy in any form would be misplaced. It would shake the confidence of the public in the administration of the criminal justice system irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise of retaining the death penalty.8 However, should a court take into account the desires of the community, because the community does not always look for legally valid solution and maybe blinded by hate and emotions.

Determining rarest of rare

The Supreme Court, over some time, has put several cases in the rarest of rare category. But, the power to judge a case to be in that category is discretionary. There are parameters to hold it, but those parameters are subjective. The Supreme Court stated that a court may look into aggravating and mitigating circumstances while imposing the death penalty in its discretionary power. The Supreme Court stated that a balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances has to be drawn up and in doing so the mitigating circumstances have to be accorded full weightage and a just balance has to be struck between the aggravating and the mitigating circumstances before the option is exercised.9 This discretion may be arbitrary, while discretion and equity are the rightful prerogative of courts but in the matter of death, any discretion could lead to arbitrariness. What if something was considered rarest of rare a decade ago but has become not so rare owing to the decadent society. Would it be fair to let a man off a death sentence when someone had been hanged a few years ago with a unanimous verdict?

One of the observations in the infamous Nirbhaya case by the Supreme Court was where the victims are helpless women, children or old persons and the accused displayed depraved mentality, committing a crime in a diabolic manner, the accused should be shown no remorse and the death penalty should be awarded. However, in a recent case, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of a convict to life imprisonment whose 2-year-old niece fell prey to his savage lust and thereafter lost her life.10 This shows that how discretionary powers in matters of death sentence could be arbitrary. As the saying goes “Equity is as big as the Chancellor’s foot.” The Supreme Court has attempted to remove arbitrariness, yet the discretionary powers are wide. What constitutes the rarest of rare is not set in strict terms. What moved the society a decade ago may not affect the society to the same level as before. If capital punishment has to prevail, it must be under strict norms and set principles of law. One of the mitigating factors is the probability that the accused can be reformed and rehabilitated. If not, then the death sentence can be confirmed.

Conclusion

Articles 7211 and 16112 show that the framers of our Constitution had always intended it to be a part of our penal system. Therefore, capital punishments are not unconstitutional but they were aware of the seriousness and severity. It is for this reason, a remedy of clemency is provided enabling the executive of the State outside the purview of the judiciary. The judicial process is also carefully crafted in terms of the death penalty. The requirement of confirmation of a death penalty by the High Court is a step to ensure that there are no slips. However, the test of “the rarest of rare” is open to interpretation, which allows room for arbitrariness. The argument favour of capital punishment is that some people are beyond redemption and rehabilitation. But the biggest flaw in this argument is that one undermines the reformative capability of a human being. Buddhists believe anyone can attain enlightenment and the story of Angulimala is the prime example. Somewhere, it is the failure of the society to not tap into one’s highest potential, so we are punishing a soul for our failure? Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan said “even the worst sinner has a future, even the greatest saint has had a past”. In the end, the courts and the Judges are doing God’s work as God created life. Will ending a life before its natural course be God’s work? But why let a life prosper who endangers the lives of several others. It is a simple calculation, more than one life is more important than one life. So, it is done in the name of the greater good. Abraham Lincoln said “my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right”. I guess we will never know if by allowing capital punishment we are being on God’s side or are just doing the easy thing.


Advocate, Delhi High Court.

1 S. 366, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

2 Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban also known as Lord Verulam, was an English philosopher and statesman who served as Attorney General and as Lord Chancellor of England. His works are seen as developing the scientific method and remained influential through the scientific revolution.

3 <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/indira-jaising-urges-nirbhayas-mother-to-follow-sonia-gandhis-example/article>.

4 Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P., (1973) 1 SCC 20

5 Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684

6 <http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/36kB36D7>.

7 When the conviction is for an offence punishable with death or, in the alternative, with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of years, the judgment shall state the reasons for the sentence awarded, and, in the case of sentence of death, the special reasons for such sentence. <http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/7S71Hz0t>.

8 Mukesh Kumar v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2017) 6 SCC 1

9 Mukesh Kumar v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2017) 6 SCC 1

10 Shatrughna Baban Meshram v. State of Maharashtra, (2021) 1 SCC 596

11 < http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/nA4c4Sy5>.

12 < http://www.scconline.com/DocumentLink/nA4c4Sy5>.

Op EdsOP. ED.

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment[1].”

The tussle between the proponents of death penalty and those against it is unrelenting. While the advocates in favour of capital punishment justify their stand on the basis of the deterrent and retributive principles of criminal jurisprudence, and those against it, term death penalty as “barbaric” and a rudiment of uncivilised thought process. Significantly, the Law Commission of India in its 262nd Report[2], inter alia, concluded, “death penalty does not serve the penological goal of deterrence any more than life imprisonment” and accordingly, recommended for the abolition of death penalty for all crimes, “other than terrorism related offences and waging war”. However, despite such recommendation(s), capital punishment continues to remain under the statute books as one of the forms of sanctions, which may be inflicted upon the convicts of serious offences. In fact, even the Supreme Court[3] has consistently upheld the constitutional validity of death penalty by noting, “so far the death penalty remains in the Penal Code the courts cannot be held to commit any illegality in awarding death penalty in appropriate cases”. Nevertheless, court’s power to grant capital punishment is not unrestrained, rather, is required to abide by the strict parameters of law and judicial precedents. Further, the Supreme Court[4] has unswervingly professed,

  1. … A real and abiding concern for the dignity of human life postulates resistance to taking a life through law’s instrumentality. That ought not to be done save in the rarest of rare cases when the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed. Pertinently, these restrains, parameters, guidelines, etc., are not only applicable at the stage of actual grant of sanction, rather, restrictions extend until the capital punishment is finally executed.

The provisions under Chapter XXVIII[5] of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC/ Code) are illustrations of such statutory guidelines/principles, demanding mandatory compliance, prior to the execution of death sentence(s), awarded by Sessions Court. The Supreme Court in Union of India v. V. Sriharan[6], while dealing with the provisions under the said chapter and terming the same as a separate Code, observed, 84. … Sections 366 to 371 are placed for the relevant consideration to be mandatorily made when a death penalty is imposed by the trial court. Under Section 366, whenever a Sessions Court passes a sentence of death, the proceedings should be mandatorily submitted to the High Court,

100. … the confirmation of the capital punishment of death penalty, the whole procedure has been mandatorily prescribed to ensure that such punishment gets the consideration by a Division Bench consisting of two Judges of the High Court for its approval. Significantly, as per the provisions of Section 366(1) of CrPC[7], “When the Court of Session passes a sentence of death, the proceedings shall be submitted to the High Court, and the sentence shall not be executed unless it is confirmed by the High Court.” Clearly, the said provision, unequivocally declares that the sentence of death, passed by Session Court, is automatically suspended on a reference made to the High Court, until the same is confirmed by the High Court. However, as per Section 366(2) of the Code, the Session Court/court passing the sentence of death is obligated to commit such a convict to jail custody under a warrant, until the final determination by High Court.

Significantly, the said provision was inserted under the Code[8], pursuant to the recommendations made by the Law Commission in its 41st Report[9]. Appositely, the Supreme Court in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Admn.[10], inter alia, while dealing with the provisions under Section 366 CrPC, observed,

  1. The purpose behind enacting Sub-section (2) Section 366 is to make available the prisoner when the sentence is required to be executed. He is to be kept in jail custody. But this custody is something different from custody of a convict suffering simple or rigorous imprisonment. He is being kept in jail custody for making him available for execution of the sentence as and when that situation arises. Similarly, the Supreme Court in Triveniben v. State of Gujarat[11], reiterated, 21. … prisoner who is sentenced to death and is kept in jail custody under a warrant under Section 366(2) is neither serving rigorous imprisonment nor simple imprisonment. In substance he is in jail so that he is kept safe and protected with the purpose that he may be available for execution of the sentence.

Pertinently, as per the provisions of Section 369 of the Code[12], the death reference(s) made by the Court of Session to the High Court are placed before, decided and signed by at least two of Judges of the said High Court, “when such court consists of two or more Judges”. However, in the case of a conflict/difference of opinion between the Judges constituting such a Bench at High Court, as per the provisions of Section 370 CrPC[13], the said case/conflict has to be decided in the manner as provided under Section 392 of the Code[14]. Significantly, the Supreme Court in Joseph Peter v. State of Goa, Daman and Diu[15], duly acknowledged,

5. … the insistence of the Code on two Judges hearing the matter of such gravity as a death sentence involves is because of the law’s grave concern that human life shall not be judicially deprived unless at least two minds at almost the highest level are applied.

However, in the instant case, considering that only one Judicial Commissioner (out of sanctioned strength of two) was functional, the court, held,

5. Even so, exceptional situations may arise where two Judges are not available in a High Court and, in that narrow contingency, the Code permits what has now happened. We cannot fault the judgment on this ground either. In fact, while deciding so, the Supreme Court unambiguously noted that the provision[16], “obviously applies only to situations where the court, at the time of the confirmation of the death sentence, consists of two or more Judges”.

Significantly, the proceeding before the High Court in a death reference is not merely a mechanical exercise. On the contrary, it is trite law[17] that in a reference for confirmation of death sentence, High Court is required to examine the entire evidence for itself, independent of the Sessions Court’s findings/views. In this regard, the Supreme Court in Jumman v. State of Punjab[18], while considering the scope of High Court’s duty and power under such scenarios, held,

10. … it is the duty of the High Court to consider the proceedings in all their aspects and come to an independent conclusion on the materials, apart from the view expressed by the Sessions Judge. In so doing, the High Court will be assisted by the opinion expressed by the Sessions Judge, but under the provisions of the law abovementioned it is for the High Court to come to an independent conclusion of its own.

Similarly, in Subbaiah Ambalam v. State of T.N.[19], the Supreme Court, while reiterating that for confirming death sentence, “the High Court has to consider the evidence afresh and to arrive at its independent finding with regard to the guilt of the accused”, remanded the matter to the High Court, lamenting under the observation,

“we are distressed to find that to the judgment appealed against this statuary requirement has not been complied with and a case involving death sentence has been disposed of in a casual manner”.

Subsequently, in State of Maharashtra v. Sahebrao[20], the High Court of Bombay, reiterating the settled principle(s) of “doctrine of ‘rarest, of rare case’ ” and “sufficient cause”, professed with extreme vehemence,

15. … All the sides of this aspect of confirming the death penalty have to be scrutinised with great care and caution. The “mitigating circumstances”, always play dominant role in confirming the death sentence. The mitigating circumstance has to be gathered and or collected and to be weighed from the facts and circumstances of the case. The confirmation of death sentences therefore cannot be based only on the precedents and or aggravating facts and circumstances of any other case. The essential and relevant mitigating circumstances of the particular case always play a role of negative elements against the positive theory of death punishment.

Appositely, Section 367 CrPC[21] enables/empowers the High Court(s) to make an inquiry into or take evidence, itself or direct such an enquiry to be made or additional evidence taken by a Court of Session(s), where it, “thinks that a further inquiry should be made into, or additional evidence taken upon, any point bearing upon the guilt or innocence of the convicted person”. Further, noticeably, though, none of the provisions under the instant Chapter confer a right on a convict to be heard before the High Court in the said proceedings,

7. Even so[22], the accused is afforded an opportunity of being heard. He is elaborately heard, both on fact as well as on law. He is also even entitled to show that the decision arrived at by the Sessions Court is not sustainable on facts and law and that he is entitled to be acquitted, considering the sacrosanct principle of audi alteram partem[23].

In fact, in this regard, the Supreme Court in Masalti v. State of U.P.[24], held,

8. Proceedings brought before the High Court for confirmation of a death sentence give a right to the condemned prisoner to be heard on the merits and to require the High Court to consider the matter for itself without being influenced by the conclusions recorded by the Court of Session.

Further, moving a step ahead, the High Court of Bombay[25], dispelled the argument the term “inquiry”, as contemplated under Section 367 CrPC would not “take-in”/encompass an examination of the accused under Section 313 CrPC[26], by noting,

22. Putting such a limitation on the powers of the High Court under Section 367 may in proper cases deprive the accused persons of an opportunity to offer explanation in respect of the incriminating circumstances which have been brought in the evidence and exposing him to the risk of a conviction even if he were to have a proper and plausible explanation to offer in respect of that circumstance and put him in the peril of sufferring a conviction for fault of his.

Section 368 of the Code[27], further, contemplates that in any case submitted/referred by Sessions Court under Section 366 thereof, the High Court may either confirm the sentence or pass any other sentence warranted by law or may annul the conviction and convict the accused of any offence of which Sessions Court might have convicted him or order a new trial on the same or amended charges or may acquit the accused. Clearly, the powers conferred on the High Court(s) under the said Chapter are quite wide in nature, for the provisions enumerated therein not only entitle the High Court to direct further enquiry or to take additional evidence, in fact, the High Court, may, in appropriate case, even acquit the accused person. Significantly, as per the Supreme Court[28], the power of High Court, under Section 368(c) CrPC to acquit an accused person, “can be exercised by the High Court even without there being any substantive appeal on the part of the accused challenging his conviction” and that proceeding envisaged therein “is a proceeding in continuation of the trial”. It is to be, however, appreciated that as per the proviso appended to Section 368 CrPC, the power of the High Court to confirm a death sentence may be exercised only, “after the period allowed for preferring an appeal has expired, or, if an appeal is presented within such period, until such appeal is disposed of”. Appositely, the Supreme Court in Bhupendra Singh v. State of Punjab[29], while dealing with the scope of exercise of power of High Court under a corresponding/pari materia[30] provision, in the event of simultaneous filing of appeal by a convict and death reference by the Sessions Court, observed,

4. … if an appeal is filed by a condemned prisoner, that appeal has to be disposed of before any order is made in the reference confirming the sentence of death. In disposing of such an appeal, however, it is necessary that the High Court should keep in view its duty under Section 375 of the Code[31] of Criminal Procedure and consequently, the court must examine the appeal record for itself, arrive at a view whether a further enquiry or taking of additional evidence is desirable or not, and then come to its own conclusion on the entire material on record whether conviction of the condemned prisoner is justified and the sentence of death should be confirmed.

Mr Justice Krishan Iyer once remarked[32],

1. A death sentence, with all its dreadful scenario of swinging desperately out of the last breath of mortal life, is an excruciating hour for the Judges called upon to lend signature to this macabre stroke of the executioner’s rope. Even so, Judges must enforce the laws, whatever they be, and decide according to the best of their lights.…

Undoubtedly, task of a Judge in sanctioning a convict is quite unpleasant and even more so when it entails, depriving an individual of his life. However, there are abundant judicial and statutory parameters, which ensure that the powers conferred on Judges are not abused or misused. Simultaneously, the provisions under Chapter XXVIII of CrPC also dictate several guiding principles for the case(s) where a convict of death sentence awaits determination of his fate by High Court. Further, whenever there is any ambiguity or uncertainty regarding the appropriateness and application of law, courts have consciously and voluntarily stepped in to lay down doctrines and codes, which ensure fairness and justice. In fact, the courts have consistently professed in favour of the pertinence of the principles of natural justice in the cases even where the statutory provisions are silent and do not exclude such application, expressly or by necessary implication. Understandably, the principles of natural justice are deep-rooted and pervade even the gaping recesses of gloomy and tedious proceedings such as that of death reference(s) before High Court(s). Such principles, including a right of being hear of a convict; passing of a reasoned and independent finding/ decision by High Court, etc., are, therefore, intrinsic and inextricably intertwined with the proceedings before High Court(s) in death reference, to ensure fairness, both, explicit and implicit in such proceedings. As a famous saying goes, “Justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seem to be done.” The same holds true even for proceedings before High Court while determining/deciding death reference(s).


Advocate, Delhi High Court

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien.

[2] The Death Penalty, August 2015

[3]Vinay Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2018) 8 SCC 186

[4] Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684

[5] Sections 366 till 371 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 dealing with submission of death sentences for confirmation

[6] (2016) 7 SCC 1

[7] Section 366(1) of CrPC 

[8] Initially inserted under the corresponding provision, being, S. 374 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.

[9] September, 1969 (Vol. I)- Law Commission Report on the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. The Law Commission, accordingly, recommended, “It is noticed that when the accused is sentenced by the Court of Session to imprisonment for life, S. 383 expressly provides for the issue of a suitable warrant and the forwarding of the accused with the warrant to the jail in which he is to be confined. It is desirable that a similar provision should be made in S. 374 so that there may be specific statutory authority for holding the accused in prison after the Court of Session has passed sentence of death and until it is executed in due course.”

[10] (1978) 4 SCC 494

[11] (1989) 1 SCC 678

[12] Section 369 of CrPC 

[13] Section 370 of CrPC

[14] Section 392 of CrPC 

[15] (1977) 3 SCC 280 

[16] In the present case, the provision under consideration was S. 377 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, being pari materia/corresponding provision to S. 370 under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

[17]Refer to Balak Ram v. State of U.P., (1975) 3 SCC 219

[18]  AIR 1957 SC 469

[19] (1977) 4 SCC 603 

[20] 2004 SCC OnLine Bom 1186 : 2005 Cri LJ 2788

[21] Section 367 of CrPC

[22] Refer to Haidarkhan Lalkhan Pathan v. State of Gujarat, 1990 SCC OnLine Guj 16 : 1991 Cri LJ 1266

[23] One of the principles of natural justice and a Latin phrase meaning, “listen to the other side”, or “let the other side be heard as well”.

[24] (1964) 8 SCR 133 

[25]Kaliram v. State of Maharashtra, 1989 SCC OnLine Bom 56: 1989 Cri LJ 1625

[26] Section 313 of CrPC 

[27] Section 368 of CrPC

[28] Atma Ram v. State of Rajasthan, (2019) 20 SCC 481

[29] AIR 1968 SC 1438 : (1968) 3 SCR 404 

[30] S. 376 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 corresponds with S. 368 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

[31] Section 375 of CrPC 

[32] Refer to Joseph Peter v. State of Goa, Daman and Diu, (1977) 3 SCC 280

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS): The Court with a ratio of 5:4 has cleared the way for the resumption of execution of federal prisoners. The Judges voted to allow the first executions on the federal level since 2003 to proceed at the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. The majority in an unsigned opinion observed that the prisoners on death row had “not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention.” The majority included John Roberts, C.J., and Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch, JJ.,

Several executions including the scheduled execution of Daniel Lewis Lee (charged guilty of triple murders) were put on hold after U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that there were still unresolved legal challenges against the justice department; and that “the public is not served by short-circuiting legitimate judicial process.” The condemned prisoners had contended that the lethal injections constitute “cruel and unusual punishments”. Perusing the contentions, the District Judge had observed that the inmates have presented evidence showing that the government’s plan to use only pentobarbital to carry out the executions “poses an unconstitutionally significant risk of serious pain. In view of the District Judge’s decision, The Justice Department lost no time and appealed to both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court.

Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan, JJ., dissented with the majority. Stephen Breyer, J., expressing his dissatisfaction at the decision of the majority pointed out that the resumption of federal executions promises to provide examples that illustrate the difficulties of administering the death penalty consistent with the Constitution. Meanwhile, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, J., pointed out the hastiness with which the majority reached their decision. She observed that this Court had denied a similar request seven months ago in Barr v. Roane, 589 U.S. (2019) and prohibited the Government to proceed with executions before the Court of Appeals could address respondents’ serious statutory challenge to the federal execution protocol. She further observed that, “decision illustrates just how grave the consequences of such accelerated decision making can be. The Court forever deprives respondents of their ability to press a constitutional challenge to their lethal injections, and prevents lower courts from reviewing that challenge. All of that is at sharp odds with this Court’s own ruling mere months earlier. In its hurry to resolve the Government’s emergency motions, I fear the Court has overlooked not only it’s prior ruling, but also its role in safeguarding robust federal judicial review”. [William P. Barr v. Daniel Lewis Lee, 2020 SCC OnLine US SC 7, decided on 14-07-2020]


Also Read:

BREAKING | SCOTUS allows Federal Executions; 1st federal executions in 17 years

Hot Off The PressNews

All four death row convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case, namely, Mukesh, Akshay, Vinay, and Pawan, were sent to the gallows at 5:30 AM today after the last bid to defer hanging was rejected by the Supreme Court in a hearing that took place less than 2 hours before the scheduled hanging. A hearing marathon took place before the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court where the convicts’ counsel AP Singh urged the Court to stay the execution.

During the almost mid-night hearing, the Delhi High Court said,

“We’re close to the time when your client will meet the God. Don’t waste time. We’ll not be able to help you in the eleventh hour if you cannot raise an important point. You have only 4-5 hours.”

However, when the counsel was unable to prove his point, the High Court said that it found no foundation in the plea and confirmed the scheduled hanging. Following which, the counsel approached the Supreme Court, where again the petition was dismissed. The roughly 45 minutes long hearing took place at 2:30 AM.

The Crime

The 23-year-old paramedic student, referred to as Nirbhaya, was gang raped and brutally assaulted on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012 in a moving bus in south Delhi by six people before being thrown out on the road. She died on December 29, 2012 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. The friend with whom Nirbhaya boarded the bus was also beaten, gagged and knocked unconscious with an iron rod by the accused. He suffered broken limbs but survived.

“The accused not only abducted the victim, but gang-raped her, committed unnatural offences by compelling her to perform oral sex, bit her lips, cheeks, breast and caused horrifying injuries to her private parts by inserting iron rod which ruptured the vaginal rectum, jejunum and rectum.”

The incident generated widespread national and international coverage and was widely condemned, both in India and abroad. Subsequently, public protests against the State and Central governments for failing to provide adequate security for women took place in New Delhi, where thousands of protesters clashed with security forces. Similar protests took place in major cities throughout the country. Since Indian law does not allow the press to publish a rape victim’s name, the victim was widely known as Nirbhaya, meaning “fearless”, and her struggle and death became a symbol of women’s resistance to rape around the world.

One of the six accused, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail in March 2013 during the trial. Another convict, who was a minor at the time of the crime, was sent to a reform facility and released after three years of the crime.

The Verdict

On May 5. 2017, the 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, CJ., R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, JJ. unanimously awarded death sentence to all 4 accused and said, [Mukesh v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2017) 6 SCC 1 : (2017) 2 SCC (Cri) 673] at SCC p. 261 para 518:

“The gruesome offences were committed with highest viciousness. Human lust was allowed to take such a demonic form. The accused may not be hardened criminals; but the cruel manner in which the gang rape was committed in the moving bus; iron rods were inserted in the private parts of the victim; and the coldness with which both the victims were thrown naked in cold wintery night of December, shocks the collective conscience of the society.”

Stating that if any case warranted award of death sentence, it was the Nirbhaya case, the Court said (SCC p. 261 para 518),

“If the dreadfulness displayed by the accused in committing the gang rape, unnatural sex, insertion of iron rod in the private parts of the victim does not fall in the “rarest of rare category”, then one may wonder what else would fall in that category.”

On July 9, 2018 , the Court had dismissed the review pleas filed by the three convicts in the case, saying no grounds have been made out by them for review of the 2017 verdict.

How the Nirbhaya case changed the law in India

  • On 22 December 2012, a judicial committee headed by Former Chief Justice of India, Justice S. Verma, was appointed by the Central government to submit a report within 30 days to suggest amendments to criminal law to sternly deal with sexual assault cases. The committee urged the public in general and particularly eminent jurists, legal professionals, NGOs, women’s groups and civil society to share “their views, knowledge and experience suggesting possible amendments in the criminal and other relevant laws to provide for quicker investigation, prosecution and trial, and also enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault of an extreme nature against women.”

A report was submitted after 29 days, after considering 80,000 suggestions received during the period. The report indicated that failures on the part of the government and police were the root cause behind crimes against women. Suggestions in the report included the need to review the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) in conflict areas, and setting the maximum punishment for rape as death penalty rather than life imprisonment. However, the committee did not favour lowering the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16.

  • On 26 December 2012, a Commission of Inquiry headed by former Delhi High Court judge Usha Mehra was set up to identify lapses, determine responsibility in relation to the incident, and suggest measures to make Delhi and the wider National Capital Region safer for women.
  • On 1 January 2013, a task force headed by the Union Home Secretary was established to look into women’s safety issues in Delhi and review the functioning of the city police force on a regular basis.
  • On 3 February 2013, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 was promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee which provided for amendment of the Penal Code, Evidence Act, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, on laws related to sexual offences. The ordinance provides for the death penalty in cases of rape. According to Minister of Law and Justice Ashwani Kumar, 90 percent of the suggestions given by the Verma Committee Report were incorporated into the Ordinance. However, critics state that many key suggestions of the commission have been ignored, including the criminalisation of marital rape and trying military personnel accused of sexual offences under criminal law. The said ordinance was repealed by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 which brought important changes to the penal laws of india with respect to crimes committed against women.
  • Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 was passed which replaced the Indian juvenile delinquency law, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, and allows for juveniles in conflict with Law in the age group of 16–18, involved in Heinous Offences, to be tried as adults.

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: A bench head by R. Banumathi, J has reserved the order on the issue of rejection of mercy petition of Vinay Kumar Sharma, one of the convicts in the Nirbhaya gang-rape case. The bench will pronounce the verdict tomorrow at 2:00 PM.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of the Delhi government, said that convict Vinay Sharma was not kept in solitary confinement as it was argued by convict’s lawyer AP Singh in the Supreme Court.

“He was not kept in solitary confinement, as argued by advocate AP Singh. There is a limited scope of judicial review, as the President of India had rejected the mercy petition after SC reserved order duly considering and applying his mind,”

He further added,

“The Home Minister did not do it (dispose off the matter) immediately, as the Joint Secretary and Home Secretary discussed the matter in a detailed manner. The crime committed by the convict, Vinay Kumar Sharma, fell in the rarest of the rare category and did not fall in the category of mercy,”

Lawyer, AP Singh, representing Vinay, had earlier argued that the convict was kept in illegal confinement and “illegally tortured” in Tihar Jail. He argued,

“Vinay Sharma was kept in illegal confinement. He was illegally tortured in Tihar jail prison. I am here only to seek justice, where can I go for justice? That is why I am pleading here before the court for justice. They are not terrorists, they are not habitual offenders. These are the grounds for mercy to these convicts,”

He claimed that there has been a history of physical assaults on Vinay.

“Vinay had been sent for psychiatric treatment on many occasions. The petitioner has suffered adverse mental condition and faced immense trauma,”

The lawyer added,

“Vinay should have been treated with proper medical treatment for his poor mental health. He was provided complete medical treatment for his mental illness.”

Singh added that the “non-application” of mind by President of India is one ground for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment.

“Why the mercy petition is rejected by the President of India so hurriedly? What is the need of doing it so hurriedly by the President of India.? Justice hurried is justice buried. Bifurcation of crime, committed by accused (convict) persons, was not done properly by the investigation team in the case,”

Vinay filed the petition in the top court against President Ram Nath Kovind’s decision to reject his mercy plea. The convict, through his lawyer AP Singh, has requested the death penalty to be commuted to life imprisonment. On February 1, Vinay’s mercy petition was rejected by the President.

The 23-year-old paramedic student, referred to as Nirbhaya, was gang raped and brutally assaulted on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012 in a moving bus in south Delhi by six people before being thrown out on the road. She died on December 29, 2012 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. Besides Mukesh, three others – Akshay, Vinay, and Pawan are facing the gallows for the heinous crime that shook the entire nation. One of the six accused in the case, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide in the Tihar Jail here.

The Court had on May 5, 2017, upheld the death sentence of all the four convicts in the brutal December 16 gangrape and murder case. The Court, while dismissing the appeal of the four convicts, had said that the crime fell in the rarest of rare category and “shaken the conscience of the society.”

On July 9, 2018 , the Court had dismissed the review pleas filed by the three convicts in the case, saying no grounds have been made out by them for review of the 2017 verdict.

On December 18, 2019, the 3-judge bench of R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan and AS Bopanna, JJ rejected the review petition of the last convict, Akshay Kumar Singh, seeking modification and leniency.

On January 21, 2020, the 3-judge bench of R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan and AS Bopanna, JJ had dismissed the Special Leave Petition filed by Pawan Kumar Gupta, one of the four death row convicts in the Nirbhaya Gang rape case where he “reagitated” the plea of juvenility.

A juvenile, who was among the accused, was convicted by a juvenile justice board and was released from a reformation home after serving a three-year term. Two of the convicts are yet to file curative petitions before the Supreme Court.

Another accused, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail in March 2013 during the trial. Another convict, who was a minor at the time of the crime, was sent to a reform facility and released after three years of the crime.

Meanwhile, a Delhi Court has postponed the execution of Mukesh Kumar Singh, Pawan Kumar Gupta, Vinay Kumar Sharma, and Akshay Kumar Singh till further orders.

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan and AS Bopanna, JJ has sought response from the four death row convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case on the Centre’s appeal challenging the Delhi High Court verdict which dismissed its plea against stay on their execution. The Court also granted liberty to the authorities to approach the trial court for issuance of fresh date for the execution of these convict.

It said that the pendency of the appeal filed by the Centre and Delhi government before it would not be an impediment for the trial court in issuing fresh date for execution of the convicts.

Solicitor General Tuhar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the Delhi government, said the execution of the convicts is not for “enjoyment ” and the authorities are only executing the mandate of the law. Referring to the delaying tactics of the convicts, he said three of them have exhausted their remedies but one of them, Pawan Gupta, has not yet filed either curative plea in the apex court or mercy petition before the President. He said,

“the time granted by the High Court, namely, one week is expiring today and no further steps had been taken to avail any remedy by the convicts and, therefore, the petitioners be granted liberty to move the Trial Court for obtaining fresh date for execution of death warrant.”

He said the court has to keep in mind the impact of this on the society as despite the fact that appeals of the convict were dismissed by the top court in 2017, the authorities were “struggling to execute them even now”.

Mehta referred to the alleged encounter killing of four accused in the gang rape and murder case of a woman veterinarian in Hyderabad and said “people had celebrated after this and this was because people have started losing faith in the system. This reflects poorly on our system”.

The court had initially said that issuing notice to the convicts would further delay the matter but did it later on the appeal filed by the Centre and Delhi government.

The Court has listed the matter on February 13, 2020.

The 23-year-old paramedic student, referred to as Nirbhaya, was gang raped and brutally assaulted on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012 in a moving bus in south Delhi by six people before being thrown out on the road. She died on December 29, 2012 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. Besides Mukesh, three others – Akshay, Vinay, and Pawan are facing the gallows for the heinous crime that shook the entire nation. One of the six accused in the case, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide in the Tihar Jail here.

The Court had on May 5, 2017, upheld the death sentence of all the four convicts in the brutal December 16 gangrape and murder case. The Court, while dismissing the appeal of the four convicts, had said that the crime fell in the rarest of rare category and “shaken the conscience of the society.”

On July 9, 2018 , the Court had dismissed the review pleas filed by the three convicts in the case, saying no grounds have been made out by them for review of the 2017 verdict.

On December 18, 2019, the 3-judge bench of R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan and AS Bopanna, JJ rejected the review petition of the last convict, Akshay Kumar Singh, seeking modification and leniency.

On January 21, 2020, the 3-judge bench of R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan and AS Bopanna, JJ had dismissed the Special Leave Petition filed by Pawan Kumar Gupta, one of the four death row convicts in the Nirbhaya Gang rape case where he “reagitated” the plea of juvenility.

A juvenile, who was among the accused, was convicted by a juvenile justice board and was released from a reformation home after serving a three-year term. Two of the convicts are yet to file curative petitions before the Supreme Court.

Another accused, Ram Singh, allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail in March 2013 during the trial. Another convict, who was a minor at the time of the crime, was sent to a reform facility and released after three years of the crime.

Meanwhile, a Delhi Court has postponed the execution of Mukesh Kumar Singh, Pawan Kumar Gupta, Vinay Kumar Sharma, and Akshay Kumar Singh till further orders.

[Union of India v. Mukesh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 172, order dated 11.02.2020]

(With inputs from PTI)

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: The Centre has moved the Supreme Court for fixing a seven-day deadline for executing death penalty of condemned prisoners. The plea of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) assumes significance in view of the the death row convicts in the sensational Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case of 2012 filing review, curative and mercy petitions, which has delayed their hanging.

The MHA’s plea sought a direction from the Supreme Court in fixing the deadline for filing of curative pleas after the rejection of review petitions. It also sought a direction that

“if the convict of death sentence wants to file mercy petition, it would be mandatory for a convict of death sentence to do so only within a period of seven days from the date of receipt of death warrant issued by the competent court”

The MHA submitted that the Court should

“mandate all the competent courts, state governments, prison authorities in the country to issue death warrant of a convict within seven days of the rejection of his mercy petition and to execute death sentence within seven days thereafter irrespective of the stage of review petition/curative petition/mercy petition of his co-convicts”.

The Court had, on January 20, had rejected the plea of a death row convict in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case challenging the Delhi High Court order which had dismissed his claim of being a juvenile at the time of offence saying he cannot re-agitate the issue by filing fresh application.

A Delhi court has recently issued fresh death warrants for February 1 against the four convicts — Vinay Sharma (26), Akshay Kumar Singh (31), Mukesh Kumar Singh (32) and Pawan (26) — in the case after their hanging got delayed from January 22 due to pending petitions.

The 23-year-old paramedic student, referred to as Nirbhaya, was gang-raped and brutally assaulted on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012, in a moving bus in south Delhi by six people before she was thrown out on the road.

(Source: PTI)

Hot Off The PressNews

As reported by ANI, Delhi’s Patiala Court has issued death warrant to the 4 Convicts in the Nirbhaya Ganga Rape and Murder Case.

Court has stated 22-01-2020 as the date of hanging at 7 am in Tihar jail. Nirbhaya’s parents had appeared in the court with regard to expedite the procedure to hang the victims.

In December 2019 the Supreme Court had dismissed one of the convicts (Akshay Kumar Singh) review plea, one of the four men convicted in the case. The Apex Court had said that there were no grounds to reconsider his death penalty.

Besides the four convicts, two more were accused of rape and murder. Ram Singh, the fifth accused, committed suicide and a juvenile was released after three years in a reform home.


Supreme Court’s decision on the review petition filed by Akshay Kumar Singh -One of the Convicts: [18-12-2019]

After a brief hearing on the review petition filed by Akshay Kumar Singh, one of the convicts in the brutal December 16, 2012, Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case, seeking modification and leniency, the 3-judge bench of R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan and AS Bopanna, JJ has rejected the review petition and said,

“We do not find any error apparent on the face of the record in the appreciation of evidence or the findings of the judgment dated 05.05.2017. None of the grounds raised in the review petition call for review of the judgment dated 05.05.2017.”


[Source: ANI]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Gujarat High Court: A Division Bench of Bela M. Trivedi and A.C. Rao, JJ., dismissed an appeal filed on being aggrieved by the Judgment and order by the Additional Sessions Judge and Special Judge (POCSO), whereby it had convicted the appellant-accused for the offence under Sections 302, 363, 366, 376AB, 377 and 201 of the Penal Code, 1860 and under Sections 3(a), 4, 5(a), 5(r) and 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and had sentenced him to death penalty for the offence under Sections 302, 376AB of the Penal Code and had convicted him of the offences under the Atrocities Act.

The facts of the case stated as per the prosecution before the Special Court were that the appellant-accused was residing on the ground floor of the house owned by Shyam Narayan Pandey and the complainant along with his family had been residing in the same building on the first floor as a tenant and the appellant on 14-10-2018 between 8-8.30 pm kidnapped his minor daughter aged about 3 years and 6 months (victim) took her to his room committed rape on her and killed her by throttling. Thereafter in order to destroy the evidence put the body of the victim in a gunny bag in his room and locked the room from outside and fled away. After the complainant filed the missing report in the police station the investigation officer conducted an inquiry and since the room of the accused was locked the lock was broken and the body of the victim was found in a decomposed state. After collection of sufficient evidence against the accused the charge-sheet was filed before the Special Court. After appreciating the evidence on record, it convicted and sentenced the accused as per the impugned judgment and order which is challenged in the instant petition.

The counsel for the appellant-accused Radhesh Vyas stated that the whole case of the prosecution was rested on the circumstantial evidence, the confession made by the before medical examiner as well as when in police custody could not be relied upon and read as evidence, the CCTV footages provided did not cover the entire area of the society and couldn’t be termed as reliable piece of evidence, relying upon the cross-examination which submitted that there was a shutter in the room of the accused and possibility that the gunny bag could be placed through that shutter cannot be ruled out. Lastly relying on the Supreme Court judgment of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684 and Machhi Singh. v. State of Punjab, (1983) 3 SCC 470 he submitted that the Special Court had committed a gross error in not considering the mitigating circumstances before awarding capital punishment and relying on various other cases he tried to establish that the instant case did not fall in the category of the rarest of the rare case.

The counsel for the respondents Himanshu Patel, stated that even if the case was based on circumstantial evidence the prosecution had proved each and every circumstance without reasonable doubt proving guilt of the accused and wile at the time of the investigation he did not cooperate with it and had fled to his village the next morning of the incident and the investigation officer had found the body of the victim from his room, the postmortem reports clearly described that the victim was raped in a diabolical manner and brutally murdered by strangulation and then her dead body was kept in a gunny bag to decay and decompose. Late the accused was arrested from Bihar in a train going to Delhi. The DNA profile and other scientific investigations also proved that the accused was involved with the crime. The Court, therefore, had no hesitation in holding that trustworthy and credible evidence given by the prosecution had conclusively proved the guilt of the appellant/accused, excluding any possibility of his innocence.

The Court while dismissing the appeal and confirming the decision of the Special Court stated that the abhorrent and atrocious nature of crime committed by the appellant-accused in a diabolical manner, on the defenseless unprotected girl of 3½ years, without any remorse, has left the Court with no option but to consider the case as the “rarest of rare case” for awarding the punishment of death penalty. [Anil Surendrasingh Yadav v. State of Gujarat, 2019 SCC OnLine Guj 2692, decided on 27-12-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: A Division Bench of Joymalya Bagchi and Suvra Ghosh, JJ., has recently observed in a case of rape and murder of a teenager aged just 13 years, that death penalty must only be invoked as a last resort when it is clear that there is no scope for the rehabilitation of a convict. The judges commented that one must not lose sight of the fact that the imposition of the death penalty is the last resort which the Court must do unwillingly and with a very heavy heart. It ought not to be awarded in cases where the glimmer of hope and rehabilitation is not completely lost. If upon balancing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, if there seems to be even a tiny glimmer of possibility to salvage the soul of a condemned convict then every effort should be made towards that end.

The Court emphasised that concern for human dignity and life must underscore the jurisprudence on the death penalty. The Bench further added that even if a convict appears to lack sensitivity, a higher standard is expected in response, given the constitutional scheme of things. On an examination of aggravating and mitigating factors, the Court held, that there was potential for the rehabilitation of the convict, and commuted the death penalty to rigorous life imprisonment. The Court took into consideration the Correctional Home report which recommended that the convict had good and sociable conduct and his inmates described him as a supportive person. [State of West Bengal v. Albert Toppo, DR 4 of  2017, decided on 10-12-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: A Division Bench of Joymalya Bagchi and Suvra Ghosh, JJ. upheld the conviction of the appellants for the commission of the offence punishable under Section 21(c) read with Section 29 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.

The prosecution case is based on the recovery at two places. Firstly, 3.5 kgs of heroin was recovered from the first appellant and 50 kgs of heroin was recovered from the rented house in the possession of the second appellant. The first appellant was sentenced to death and the second appellant was sentenced with rigorous imprisonment for 30 years and to pay a fine of Rs 3 lakhs in default to suffer rigorous imprisonment for one year or more. Aggrieved by these orders, first appellant filed the instant death reference which was clubbed with the appeal filed by the second appellant against his conviction.

Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee, representing the appellants, prayed for the acquittal of the appellants and argued that seizure of possession of 3.5 kgs of heroin is vitiated in law as it is not as per the terms of Section 50 of the Act. Also, the primary witness did not recognise the second appellant. Furthermore, the appellants denied making statements under Section 67 of the NDPS Act during their examination under Section 313 Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

The prosecution relied on the Supreme Court case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684 and argued that death penalty ought to be awarded in the present case as the first appellant has been convicted of the possession of narcotic substance above commercial quantity on two occasions and in spite of commutation he has been convicted for the second time. It also argued that Section 50 of the Act doesn’t apply as the seizure was under the terms of Section 43 of the Act.

The Court upheld the contentions of the prosecution and held that the possession of the 3.5 kgs and 50 kgs of heroin by appellants had been proven beyond doubt. The Court followed the Bachan Singh case and made a balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances to see if it had any alternative other than imposing the death penalty on the first appellant.

The Court held that Section 31 A of the NDPS Act provided for the death penalty in certain cases and the imposition of it may or may not deter others from committing similar crimes in the future. It modified the sentence imposed on the first appellant with the alternative sentence of rigorous punishment for 30 years and to pay a fine of Rs 3 lakh rupees in default to suffer rigorous imprisonment for three years more. The sentence imposed on the second appellant was upheld. The death sentence was discharged and the sentence appeal was allowed with the aforesaid modification.[State of West Bengal v. Ansar Rahman, 2019 SCC OnLine Cal 5189, decided on 26-11-2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

As reported by media, A Three-Judge Bench of the Lahore High Court has pronounced the death penalty for General Pervez Musharraf in a high treason case.

Death Sentence to a former army chief is happening for the first time in the history of Pakistan.

Musharraf had been facing a high treason trial for clamping the state of emergency on November 3, 2007. The case had been pending since December 2013.

He has been living in Dubai since March 2016 for “medical treatment”.


Image Credits: Hindustan Times

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Malaysia Court of Appeal: A Full Bench of Kamardin Hashim, Hanipah Farikullah, Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah, JCA dismissed the appeal filed by a person who was convicted for drug trafficking and affirmed the conviction and sentence of the death penalty by High Court.

The appellant was a Thai national female who was found in the possession of drugs and she was trying to hide it by sitting on it. When cops did the body check of appellant then drugs were found. She was charged under Section 39B(1)(a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1952. The learned trial judge invoked the statutory presumption under Section 37(da)(ix) of the Act based on the weight of the drugs which was more than 40 grams of Cocaine, and sentenced her to death penalty. The said order was challenged in this appeal.

The appellant argued that drugs could have been left by the previous guest and also there are chances that police may fabricate evidence against her but there was no reason for police to do that. She also emphasized that her luggage was scanned at the airport and nothing incriminating was found. But the argument was made that there is a possibility she got possession of drugs after she left airport. 

The respondent argued that they got information about drugs so they checked the room acting on that information they checked the room and drugs were found in that room. Drugs found were sent for check which confirmed the presence of cocaine in those things which further affirms the allegation on the appellant. Moreover, there will be no reason to defame a person who had just arrived in a country. 

The Court opined that High Court had analysed all the witness and was satisfied there was no break in chain of evidence to the drugs produced and identified by prosecution witness in court. The High Court Judge had relied on the conduct of appellant in concealing the drugs by sitting on them, which established that she had knowledge about it.

Giving due regard to appreciation of evidence by the High Court and circumstances of this case, the Court held the appellant guilty for trafficking charges without any reasonable doubt. The court also remarked that it is illogical for the person to leave such valuable drugs in the room. It was opined that there was no merit in the appeal and also the arguments made by the appellant. [Napalai Narapattarawong v. Public Prosecutor, 2019 SCC OnLine MYCA 3, decided on 24-09-2019]

Amendments to existing lawsLegislation Updates

After the Parliament approval, President of India, Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent for the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, 2019, today, i.e. 05-08-2019.

Object of the POCSO Act, 2012:

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (the said Act) has been enacted to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography and provide for the establishment of Special Courts for the trial of such offences and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Reason for approving the POCSO (Amendment) Act, 2019:

In the recent past incidences of child sexual abuse cases demonstrating the inhumane mind-set of the abusers, who have been barbaric in their approach towards young victims, is rising in the country. Children are becoming easy prey because of their tender age, physical vulnerabilities and inexperience of life and society.

There is a strong need to take stringent measures to deter the rising trend of child sex abuse in the country, the proposed amendments to the said Act make provisions for enhancement of punishments for various offences so as to deter the perpetrators and ensure safety, security and dignified childhood for a child. It also empowers the Central Government to make rules for the manner of deleting or destroying or reporting about pornographic material in any form involving a child to the designated authority.

Major amendments to incorporated and passed by the Parliament are as follows:

Sections Amended

POSCO Act, 2012

POCSO (Amendment) Act, 2019

Section (2)(1) [Addition of new clause] ‘(da) “child pornography” means any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child which include photograph, video, digital or computer-generated image indistinguishable from an actual child, and image created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict a child

Section 2 (b)

The words and expressions used herein and not defined but defined in the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974), the “Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (56 of 2000)” and the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000) shall have the meanings respectively assigned to them in the said Codes or the Acts. The words and expressions used herein and not defined but defined in the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974), the “Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015” (56 of 2000) and the Information Technology Act, 2000 (21 of 2000) shall have the meanings respectively assigned to them in the said Codes or the Acts.

Section 4 (1) [Punishment increased]

Whoever commits penetrative sexual assault shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine. Whoever commits penetrative sexual assault shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 4 [Insertion of new sub-sections]

“(2) Whoever commits penetrative sexual assault on a child below sixteen years of age shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than twenty years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of natural life of that person, and shall also be liable to fine.

 

(3) The fine imposed under sub-section (1) shall be just and reasonable and paid to the victim to meet the medical expenses and rehabilitation of such victim.”

Section 5

Section 6 [SUBSTITUTED]

Whoever, commits aggravated penetrative sexual assault, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine. “6. (1) Whoever commits aggravated penetrative sexual assault shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than twenty years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of natural life of that person, and shall also be liable to fine, or with death.

 

(2) The fine imposed under sub-section (1) shall be just and reasonable and paid to the victim to meet the medical expenses and rehabilitation of such victim.”

Section 9 [Insertion of new clause]

“(v) whoever persuades, induces, entices or coerces a child to get administered or administers or direct anyone to administer, help in getting administered any drug or hormone or any chemical substance, to a child with the intent that such child attains early sexual maturity;”

Section 14 [SUBSTITUTION]

“14. (1) Whoever uses a child or children for pornographic purposes shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years and shall also be liable to fine, and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years and also be liable to fine.

 

(2) Whoever using a child or children for pornographic purposes under sub-section (1), commits an offence referred to in Section 3 or Section 5 or Section 7 or Section 9 by directly participating in such pornographic acts, shall be punished for the said offences also under Section 4, Section 6, Section 8 and Section 10, respectively, in addition to the punishment provided in sub-section (1).”

Section 15 [SUBSTITUTED]

“15 (1) Any person, who stores or possesses pornographic material in any form involving a child, but fails to delete or destroy or report the same to the designated authority, as may be prescribed, with an intention to share or transmit child pornography, shall be liable to fine not less than five thousand rupees, and in the event of second or subsequent offence, with fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees.

(2) Any person, who stores or possesses pornographic material in any form involving a child for transmitting or propagating or displaying or distributing in any manner at any time except for the purpose of reporting, as may be prescribed, or for use as evidence in court, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

(3) Any person, who stores or possesses pornographic material in any form involving a child for commercial purpose shall be punished on the first conviction with imprisonment of either description which shall not be less than three years which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both, and in the event of second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description which shall not be less than five years which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.”

Section 34

Section 42

Where an act or omission constitutes an offence punishable under this Act and also under Sections 166-A, 354-A, 354-B, 354-C, 354-D, 370, 370-A, 375, 376, 4[376-A, 376-AB, 376-B, 376-C, 376-D, 376-DA, 376-DB], “376-E or Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code” (45 of 1860), then, notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, the offender found guilty of such offence shall be liable to punishment under this Act or under the Indian Penal Code as provides for punishment which is greater in degree. Where an act or omission constitutes an offence punishable under this Act and also under Sections 166-A, 354-A, 354-B, 354-C, 354-D, 370, 370-A, 375, 376, 4[376-A, 376-AB, 376-B, 376-C, 376-D, 376-DA, 376-DB], “376E, section 509 of the Indian Penal Code or section 67B of the Information Technology Act, 2000” (45 of 1860), then, notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, the offender found guilty of such offence shall be liable to punishment under this Act or under the Indian Penal Code as provides for punishment which is greater in degree.

Section 45 [Re-lettered] sub-section (2) (a);

Addition of new clauses

“(a) the manner of deleting or destroying or reporting about pornographic material in any form involving a child to the designated authority under sub-section (1) of Section 15;

(aa) the manner of reporting about pornographic material in any form involving a child under sub-section (2) of Section 15;”.


Ministry of Law and Justice

[Notification dt. 06-08-2019]

Legislation UpdatesStatutes/Bills/Ordinances

Rajya Sabha passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, yesterday, i.e. 24-07-2019 with a death penalty provision for committing sexual crimes against children.

As reported by All India Radio, “Bill provides that those who use a child for pornographic purposes should be punished with imprisonment up to five years and a fine. However, in the event of second or subsequent conviction, the punishment would be up to seven years and fine.

The Bill defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a child including photographs, video, digital or computer-generated image indistinguishable from an actual child.

According to the amendment bill, those committing penetrative sexual assaults on a child below 16 years of age would be punished with imprisonment up to 20 years, which might extend to life imprisonment as well as fine.

In case of aggravated penetrative sexual assault, the bill increases the minimum punishment from ten years to 20 years, and the maximum punishment to death penalty.”


[Source: All India Radio]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madhya Pradesh High Court: A Division Bench of J.K. Maheshwari and Anjuli Palo, JJ. partly allowed a criminal petition filed by a person accused of rape and murder of his minor daughter, and commuted his death penalty to life imprisonment.

In the instant case, the prosecutrix (since deceased) aged six years was the younger daughter of the appellant. She was residing with her mother and the appellant. The appellant was annoyed and having suspicion on his wife, Farida of questionable character. As he wanted to take revenge, he allured the prosecutrix with chocolates and used to commit unnatural intercourse and rape with his minor daughter. After committing the rape with the prosecutrix, he murdered her, hanged her from the ceiling with the help of a dupatta and then fled away from the spot. Police registered a case under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The DNA test report revealed that the DNA profile of appellant matched with the DNA profile present in the vaginal swab of the prosecutrix and sperms were also present in the vaginal swab. Due to the aforesaid evidence, police filed charge-sheet against the appellant under Sections 376, 377, 302 and 201 of the Penal Code, 1860 and Section 5(m) read with Section 6 of the Protection of Children from the Sexual Offences Act, 2012. Trial Court convicted the appellant and awarded him a death sentence. The matter was referred to this Court for confirmation of the death sentence under Section 366 (1) of CrPC. The appellant had challenged the findings recorded by the trial court by filing the separate appeal under Section 374 (2) of CrPC.

The learned counsel for the appellant, Surendra Singh and Siddharth Sharma argued that the dupatta which was used by the deceased for hanging herself was not examined at the time of postmortem. It was further contended that conviction could not be based only on the DNA and Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) reports. Hence, the impugned judgment was liable to be set aside and the appellant was entitled to be acquitted from the charges leveled against him.

The learned counsel for the respondent/State, Som Mishra contended that the Trial Court had properly evaluated the evidence available on record and rightly convicted the appellant and awarded sentence befitting the crime. Hence, the appeal filed by the appellant was liable to be dismissed and allowing the criminal reference, the death sentence may be confirmed.

The Court stated that in the rarest of the rare cases, death sentence ought to be awarded. For this, the Court relied on the judgment of Supreme Court in the case of Mofil Khan v. State of Jharkhand, (2015) 1 SCC 67, in which the Supreme Court had opined that the death sentence must be awarded where the victims were innocent children and helpless women, especially when the crime was committed in the cruelest and inhumane manner which was extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical and revolting.

The Court drew a balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances to determine if the death penalty was adequate punishment. Aggravating circumstances: (i) extremely brutal, diabolic and cruel act; (ii) victim being six years was a minor and helpless; (iii) no provocation because the accused was in a dominating position; (iv) injuries were grievous with respect to sexual assault particularly in a case where the victim was the daughter of the appellant. Mitigating circumstances: (i) it was a case of circumstantial evidence; (ii) no evidence that the accused had the propensity of committing further crimes causing continuous threat to the society; (iii) no evidence to show that the accused could not be reformed or rehabilitated; (iv) other punishment options were open; (v) accused was not a professional killer or offender having any criminal antecedent; (vi) accused being a major having family with him, the possibility of reformation could not be ruled out.

Thus, the Court held that in place of the death penalty, the appellant undergoes life imprisonment with a minimum of 30 years of imprisonment (without remission) and fine of Rs 20,000. In default of payment of fine, the appellant had to undergo further rigorous imprisonment for six months. The conviction and sentences awarded under Sections 201, 377, 376 of IPC as awarded by the trial court were held to be just and hence, hereby maintained.

The criminal appeal filed by the appellant was partly allowed.[Afjal Khan v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine MP 1672, decided on 17-05-2019]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of Pakistan: A Full Bench of Manzoor Ahmad Malik, Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed, JJ. set aside the impugned judgment and conviction of the appellant by extending the benefit of doubt.

The prosecution’s case was hinged on the dying declaration made by the deceased Haji Muhammed Zamin Khan (complainant), in which he said that he was on his way back from a condolence meeting when the respondent herein fired upon him. After making this statement to the police, he succumbed to his wounds. The accused was arrested, convicted under Section 302 of Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 and sentenced to death. Peshawar High Court however altered the death penalty into imprisonment for life. Aggrieved by the said order, the present appeal was filed by complainant’s son.

The learned counsel for the appellant, Astagfirullah, contended that in the absence of any mitigating circumstance, there was no occasion for the learned High Court to alter the death penalty into imprisonment for life. Whereas learned counsel for the accused-respondent, Ghulam Mohyuddin Malik, questioned the legality of conviction on the ground that the case was founded primarily on a dying declaration and the prosecution miserably failed to show as to who recorded deceased’s last words and thus it was unsafe to maintain the conviction.

The Court noted that the statement of the deceased was recorded by Munawar Khan, one of the prosecution witnesses, who dictated it to Khan Ghalib Khan (another prosecution witness) to be recorded in the first information report. However, the second prosecution witness denied recording the first information report and thus it was unknown as to who had recorded the deceased’s last words.

It was observed that dying declaration is an exception to the general rule of direct evidence and it is admitted to the detriment of an accused without the opportunity of cross-examination upon the declarant under the belief that a person, face to face with God, would tell nothing but the whole truth. Therefore, it was held that prosecution must demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that the dying declaration comprised of the words of declarant alone without extraneous prompting or additions. Thus, the person who recorded the dying declaration is the most important witness to verify its veracity. However, this person was missing in the present case.

In view of the above, the Court held that it was grievously unsafe to maintain the conviction and hence by extending the benefit of the doubt to the appellant, the appeal was dismissed and respondent was directed to be released.[Somaid v. Ali Gohar, 2019 SCC OnLine Pak SC 9, decided on 30-04-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of B.P. Dharmadhikari and Prakash D. Naik, JJ. allowed an appeal by a convict who was convicted for murder and voluntary throwing acid by a trial court under Sections 302 and 326-B of Penal Code, 1860 (herein ‘IPC’), and commuted his death sentence holding that the possibility of reformation, rehabilitation and social reintegration of young age convicts into society could not be neglected.

The victim was selected as Nursing Officer in Military Nursing Services and was supposed to join Naval office at Colaba, Mumbai. The accused-appellant, who had proposed to the victim, was rebuffed by her; and thus he threw sulphuric acid on her at Bandra railway station and fled from there. The victim succumbed to her injuries. A Special Women’s Court convicted the appellant for the offence of murder and sentenced him to death.  Appellant was also convicted for the offence of voluntary throwing acid and sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for five years and to pay fine of Rs 5,000, in default to suffer rigorous imprisonment for six months. This was the first such case where an accused convicted for the acid attack was given the death penalty. Accused-appellant filed an appeal against this order.

The counsels for the appellant, Trideep Pais, Vijay Hiremath, Anshu Raj Singh and Sanya Kumar, argued that the evidence of eyewitnesses was not consistent with each other. The counsels also asserted that the incident occurred in few seconds as stated by the witnesses who saw the appellant momentarily raising doubt about their ability to identify as the identification test was conducted after eight months from the date of the alleged incident. The prosecution claimed that CCTV footage was collected but the same was not relied upon or exhibited on the ground that footage was not clear. However, nothing was put on record to prove that CCTV footage was unclear. CCTV footage was not sent to Forensic Science laboratory (herein ‘FSL’) nor played in the Court. He also argued that the alibi of the appellant was not considered. The benefit of doubt ought to have been given to the appellant as no evidence was established to show the presence of the appellant on the train boarded by the victim. Moreover, assuming that charges of murder were proved, the trial court should not have awarded the capital punishment as the case cannot be termed as rarest of rare case. Therefore, he asserted that sentencing exercise undertaken by the trial court was improper and against the mandate. Further arguing against the death sentence, it was contended that the appellant had no intention of murdering victim but only wanted to injure her.

Learned Special Public Prosecutor A.M. Chimalkar, with Siddharth Jagushte and Tusshar Nirbhavne submitted that the prosecution had established the charges under Sections 302 and 326-B of IPC beyond all reasonable doubt. There was sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of the appellant. The trial court had analyzed the evidence in detail and had given findings of involvement of the appellant in the crime. The eyewitnesses gave an ocular account of the incident and there was no doubt to discard their evidence. The appellant was identified by the witnesses. Furthermore, he argued that the medical evidence supported the case of the prosecution. Learned Special Public Prosecutor submitted that the trial court was right to award death penalty. According to him, the evidence adduced indicate aggravating circumstances justifying no other punishment except the death penalty. The crime was brutal. The trial court examined the reasons for awarding death to the appellant and gave strong reasons for convicting the appellant and interference in the decision was not warranted.

The Court observed that prosecution had established its case beyond reasonable doubt and there was nothing to doubt the authenticity of the evidence and the witnesses examined. Reliance was laid upon S.K. Hasan v. State of Maharashtra, 2003 SCC OnLine Bom 1167 to state that when the appellant had taken a specific plea of alibi, the burden was on him to establish the same. The appellant had not led any evidence to substantiate his plea of alibi. So in the absence of establishing the plea of alibi for cogent evidence, a necessary consequence of adverse inference had to be drawn. The documentary evidence adduced by the prosecution formed a significant part of the case and proved his involvement in the crime.

However, it was opined that the age of the appellant was 23 years at the time of the commission of a crime and that there was a possibility to reform. The Court took note of the ruling in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684 to hold that a death sentence can be awarded only in the rarest of rare cases, only if an alternative option was unquestionably foreclosed and only after full consideration of all factors keeping in mind that a sentence of death was irrevocable and irretrievable upon execution. The Court remarked, “It should always be remembered that while the crime is important, the criminal is equally important insofar as the sentencing process is concerned.” It took into consideration the material on record including overall personality, subsequent events to commute the sentence of death awarded to the appellant and directed that he should not be released from custody for rest of his normal life. Furthermore, the Court held that trial court relied on collective conscience to hold that the appellant deserved death penalty but ignored the fact that the appellant was of young age at the time of commission of offence and there was nothing to indicate that the appellant was beyond reformation and rehabilitation, as mandated in the case of Bachan Singh. Although the conviction of the appellant was confirmed, the death sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life. Hence, the appeal was partly allowed.[State of Maharashtra v. Ankur Narayanlal Panwar, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 968, decided on 12-06-2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

According to the media reports, New Hampshire in a recent development abolishes capital punishment in the State.

“New Hampshire, which hasn’t executed anyone in 80 years and has only one inmate on death row, has become the latest US state to abolish the death penalty when the state Senate voted to override the governor’s veto.”

The Senate vote came a week after the 400-member House voted by the narrowest possible margin to override Republican Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of a bill to repeal capital punishment.

There has been no execution since 1939, and the repeal bill would not apply retroactively to the state’s only inmate on death row.


[Source: The Guardian]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: The Division Bench of A.M. Shaffique and P. Somarajan, JJ. was hearing a death reference tagged along with a criminal appeal filed by the accused challenging order of the Sessions Judge vide which he was convicted and sentenced to be hanged by the neck till his death for offences under Sections 376, 302, 449 and 392 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

The accused respondent trespassed into the house of a minor girl aged 15 years, raped and murdered her; and thereafter committed theft of a gold necklace and a gold ring from her body. The Court observed that there was no eye-witness to the incident and the case rested purely on circumstantial evidence. However, scientific material showed that the DNA found in spermatozoa taken from victim’s vagina matched with the DNA profile of the accused. This clearly proved that the accused had raped the victim. Further, the missing chain and ring were recovered from a financier where the accused had pledged the same under a different name. Thus, the prosecution had proved all circumstances forming the chain beyond a reasonable doubt and the only hypothesis that could be arrived at by the Court was that the accused was involved in the crime.

It was noted that this was a case where the victim was subjected to forcible sexual intercourse, and lust and greed of the accused had resulted in rape and murder of a minor girl. However, the accused did not have any criminal antecedents; there was no pre-meditation and intention to commit crime would have developed all of a sudden. The offence might have been committed in a sudden rush of blood i.e., to commit robbery and rape. The accused, aged 29 years at the time of the incident, had married twice and had children.

In view of all the facts, it was opined that instead of the death penalty, the punishment of life imprisonment would meet the ends of justice. However, taking into account gravity of the offence, the Court relied on the dictum in Swamy Shraddananda (2) v. State of Karnataka, (2008) 13 SCC 767 and held that no remission be granted to the accused for a period of 25 years. [State v. Rajesh Kumar, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 43, Order dated 08-01-2019]