Think twice before giving death penalty: SC

Justice S B Sinha, who saved Karnataka’s self-proclaimed Godman Swami Shraddhananda from the gallows, has pleaded along with his colleague Justice Cyriac Joseph to desist from awarding death penalty to convicts. While admitting that the Constitution did not allow it to “take a re-look at the capital punishment policy,” the bench called for a wider debate on whether the measure should be retained or not. In the meantime, it asked other judges to make death sentences the exception and life terms the rule.

On May 19, 2007, a two-judge bench comprising Justice Sinha and Justice Markandeya Katju had held Swami Shraddhananda alias Murli Manohar Mishra guilty of murdering his wife but gave a split verdict on awarding sentence to him.

Justice Sinha had ordered for life imprisonment whereas Justice Katju supported death sentence. The matter was decided by a three-judge bench awarding him a life term with a rider that he would be behind bars till his death for killing Begum Shakereh Namazi, the granddaughter of Sir Mirza Ismail, the former Diwan of Mysore, 17 years ago. However, this time the bench of Justices Sinha and Joseph cautioned their brother judges not to be swayed by public opinion, which was overwhelmingly in favour of death penalty.
The judges have a duty to “take a perspective on individual rights at a higher pedestal than majoritarian aspirations,” the court said.

“We should strive to tune (our) practice to the evolving standards of a maturing society,” said the judgment that refused pronouncing death penalty to Santosh Kumar Satishbhushan Bariyar and three others from Maharashtra. The killers had meant to murder Kartikraj, because he could have identified his friend Bariyar. The four were arrested while trying to pick up the ransom of Rs 10 lakh from the victim’s father.

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