The framer of the Indian Penal Code, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen favoured the retention of capital punishment and observed that no other punishment deters men so effectively as the punishment of death. The ancient penal law and the Moghul rulers rigorously practised death penalty. However, the changing trends in the same are reflected by various legislative enactments. Prior to the amendment of CrPC in 1955, it was obligatory for the court to award death sentence for the offence of murder and if not, they had to justify the leniency.
The amendment of 1955 reversed this and now the courts are required to justify why they have awarded the death sentence. CrPC requires death sentence by a session judge to be reaffirmed by a High Court.
The Constitution of India also empowers the President and Governor of the state to grant pardon to the condemned prisoners in appropriate cases. This power of the executive clemency is not subject to judicial review. This controversy was raised in the Nanavati‘s case and was settled by the decision in Sarat Chandra (v) Khagendra Nath, which affirmed the principle that the sentencing powers of the judiciary and executive are readily distinguishable.
A perusal of a few Supreme Court decisions involving death sentences reveals that the sentence of death hanging over the head of the accused for a considerably longer period has been accepted as an extenuating circumstance justifying commutation of death sentence. However, Justice Krishna Iyer of the Supreme Court of India made it clear in the Rajendra Prasad (v) state of UP, that where the murder is deliberate, premeditated, cold-blooded and gruesome, there are no extenuating circumstances and the offender must be sentenced to death. The court overruled this decision in Bachan Singh (v) State of Punjab in 1980 and emphasised the need for liberal construction of the mitigating factors in the area of death penalty such that the dignity of human life is maintained.
Thus, the death penalty has to be awarded only in the rarest of rare cases. Also in Triveniben (v) State of Gujarat, the Supreme Court held that no fixed period of delay could be held to make the sentence of death in executable.
The death sentence should be sparingly used but its retention in the statute book seems necessary as a penological expediency. Recently, more public opinion is mobilising in favour of extending the scope of capital punishment to economic offences such as profiteering, smuggling, hoarding, black marketing, etc. These upset the solidarity of the society. The Law Commission in its 45th report has suggested lethal injection to execute simple and decent death sentence.
The objective and scope of sentencing has widened over the years. Death penalty is unconstitutional if arbitrarily and unreasonably imposed but if administered rationally it will enhance people’s confidence in the criminal justice system.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
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