Need for review

Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily’s statement that there should be a review of the provision for capital punishment may be an indication of the government’s willingness to consider abolition of this most extreme form of penalty. It is hoped that Moily will not claim that he has only expressed his personal opinion on the matter. There is a section that advocates more frequent award of the death sentence and expansion of the list of crimes that should invite it. The Gujarat assembly recently proposed the making and distribution of illicit liquor punishable by death sentence. There are those who feel that the ends of justice will be met only when people who have committed a particularly vicious kind of murder or other heinous crimes are awarded the death sentence. But the feeling arises from an eye-for-eye attitude driven by primitive passions and a vindictive mindset.

The trend all over the world is to abolish capital punishment. India is among a minority of 58 countries where the punishment is still legal. Even among the countries where there is legal sanction for it, some have imposed a moratorium on its enforcement. Death sentence is not a civilised response to individual crimes, however serious and despicable the crimes are. No social or political contract can be deemed to give the state the power to take the right to life away from a citizen. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, accepted by all countries, implies that the right to life is inalienable. A change in the methods of execution, from hanging or firing to seemingly less painful ways like lethal injections, does not resolve the problem of morality involved in capital punishment. Killing, by whatever means, is killing, and a civilised state should not be a party to it.

In India the Supreme Court has held that death sentence should be awarded only in the rarest of rare cases. Even this formulation makes the decisions on capital punishment subjective as the idea of ‘the rarest’ may vary from judge to judge. It is quite common also for capital punishments by lower courts to be commuted by higher courts. This, along with the power of the president to grant a reprieve, is proof of the lack of uniform criteria for awarding the punishment. A number of studies have also shown that the threat of capital punishment is no deterrent against crimes. So its retention on the statute book can hardly be justified.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry