Life imprisonment is the rule, death penalty the exception: SC

Prelims level : Supreme Court Mains level : GS – II/IV
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If a court finds it difficult to make a choice between death penalty and life imprisonment, it should opt for the lesser punishment, the Supreme Court said in a recent judgment.

Life imprisonment is the rule to which the death penalty is the exception. The death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inappropriate punishment, having regard to the relevant facts and circumstances of the crime.

Capital Punishment in India Overview

India retains capital punishment for several serious offences.

But imposition of the capital punishment is not always followed by execution (even when it is upheld on appeal), because of the possibility of commutation to life imprisonment.

The number of people executed in India since independence in 1947 is a matter of dispute; official government statistics claim that only 52 people had been executed since independence.

However, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties cited information from Appendix 34 of the 1967 Law Commission of India report showing that 1,422 executions took place in 16 Indian states from 1953 to 1963, and has suggested that the total number of executions since independence may be as high as 3,000 to 4,300.

In December 2007, India voted against a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.

In November 2012, India again upheld its stance on capital punishment by voting against the UN General Assembly draft resolution seeking to ban death penalty.

Rarest of the rare case doctrine

There are various sections under IPC (302, 376A etc) and other statutes which award capital punishment for the convict.

But the Supreme Court of India ruled in 1983 that the death penalty should be imposed only in “the rarest of rare cases.”

While stating that honour killings fall within the “rarest of the rare” category, Supreme Court has recommended the death penalty be extended to those found guilty of committing “honour killings”, which deserve to be a capital crime.

The Supreme Court also recommended death sentences to be imposed on police officials who commit police brutality in the form of encounter killings.

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