Highest standard must: SC on death penalty

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the strictest and the highest constitutional standards of life must be given due weightage in awarding death penalty to a convict.

“Every death penalty case before the court deals with a human life that enjoys certain constitutional protections, and if life is to be taken away, then the process must adhere to the strictest and highest constitutional standards. Our conscience as judges, which is guided by constitutional principles, cannot allow anything less than that,” a three-judge bench presided over by Justice Kurian Joseph said.

Justice Joseph called for reviewing the death penalty as a punishment, especially its purpose and practice. But two other judges, Justices Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta, did not agree to his view, saying since the Constitution Bench in 'Bachan Singh Vs State of Punjab' (1980) has upheld capital punishment, there was no need to re-examine it at this stage.

The top court allowed an appeal filed by Channu Lal Verma and converted his death penalty to life imprisonment in a case related to murder and attempted murder in Durg in Chhattisgarh.

The three-judge bench, however, noted that it was a matter of anguishing concern as to how public discourse on crimes have an impact on the trial, conviction and sentence in a case.

“The court’s duty to be constitutionally correct even when its view is counter-majoritarian is also a factor which should weigh with the court when it deals with the collective conscience of the people or public opinion. After all, the society’s perspective is generally formed by the emotionally charged narratives. Such narratives need not necessarily be legally correct, properly informed or procedurally proper,” the bench said.

Relying upon the Law Commission's 262nd report, the bench said it has almost become a trend for the investigating agency to present their version and create a cloud in the collective conscience of the society regarding the crime and the criminal.

“This undoubtedly puts mounting pressure on the courts at all the stages of the trial and certainly they have a tendency to interfere with the due course of justice,” the court said.

It said that a proper psychological and psychiatric evaluation of the convict has to be undertaken to ascertain his chances of reforms.

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Highest standard must: SC on death penalty

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