End death penalty

The Supreme Court’s decision that reviews of death sentences should be heard in open court is an acknowledgement of the value of life. It is another safeguard against depriving a person of his life through judicial hurry or inadequate communication of the case of the convict on death row to the judge. It is to be noted that the court has mandated such procedure under Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to life and liberty to citizens. It has also rightly declared that this right is the most important of all constitutional rights.  The issues sought to be raised by a convict in his review plea will get greater clarity in oral arguments advanced by a lawyer in an open court. It is much better than the court deciding the merit of the petition on the basis of a cold written document.

Hearing in an open court will also make the proceedings transparent. The court has limited it to half an hour, in view of the pressure on its time. But the fact  that it has gone beyond a 60-year-old rule in order to provide for open hearing underlines the importance it attaches to the need for a fair and reasonable opportunity to a convict to challenge the sentence awarded to him. It has justified its departure from tradition with the observation that a person’s life cannot be restored if it is found, after execution, that he or she was wrongly awarded the death sentence.  The court’s decision, based both on compassion and law, provides another chance for convicts to be heard  and judged by the highest judiciary in a final attempt to escape from the gallows.

But what came up before the court was only a question of right procedure, which might avert or minimise the chance of a judicial error in the award of the death sentence. But putting an end to capital punishment should be a matter of principle, not of procedure. As long as the provision exists on the statute book, the courts cannot wish it way, in spite of the rarest of rare doctrine. The idea of death sentence is wrong and bad for very valid reasons:  it is primitive, its practice is barbaric and it is not a deterrent against crime.  Most countries have abandoned it and many others have suspended it. It is only being human to abolish it. Even an open hearing may not always avert a mistake.

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