Scrutinising Death Penalty


    In News

    • The Supreme Court to institutionalise a mechanism through which crucial information of the person who has been condemned to death can be gathered and placed on record before trial judges.

    What the Apex court said?

    • The apex court opined that the courts may be opting for the death penalty in hurry, thus making the pronouncement hasty.
    • Very little efforts are made by the trial courts to understand the circumstances under which a person committed the crime.
    • Under the new mechanism, trial judges would be assisted by ‘mitigation experts’ to aid the judicial process of determining punishment.
    • The decision is seen as a sign of the judiciary veering away from the death penalty.
    • Court said that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach while considering mitigating factors during sentencing should end. A more enlightened approach has to be evolved.
    • Hence, the court asked the Attorney General to assist them in institutionalising a mechanism through which information crucial to the convict can be gathered and placed on record before trial judges.

    Mitigation Experts

    • ‘Mitigation expert’ would be a qualified professional with unhindered access to the convict’s past, ought to be at the center of this change in outlook.
    • He would have expertise in fields as varied as social work, sociology, anthropology, criminology, psychology and other social sciences.
    • They would interview the convicts, their families, friends and others associated with the prisoners and their past to draw a complete picture.
    • The data would then be placed before a trial judge to aid in the judicial process of determining the punishment.

    Death Penalty in India

    • What is death penalty?
      • Death penalty or capital punishment is the highest degree of punishment that can be awarded to an individual under specified penal law in force.
      • It is a legally backed instrument used by the state to take an individual’s life. It has been in existence since the inception of the State itself.
    • History in India:
      • During the British raj, there were countless instances of Indians being hanged after trial or even before it. The dawn of Independence brought about a new era in the judicial system of India
      • Post Independence, India became a democratic state, and the system of awarding death penalties too changed drastically. The Indian Penal Code in accordance with the provisions enshrined in the Constitution of India provided for awarding of capital punishment for certain specific offences.
      • Art. 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees to every citizen the fundamental right to life, also expressly states, “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”
      • Hence, under no circumstances your ‘right to live’ will be taken away from you except by the due procedure established by law.

    Arguments in favour of Death Penalty

    • Deterrence: Proponents of death penalty argue that it creates deterrenace and brings down the level of grave crimes in the society
    • Retribution: It’s argued that perpetrators should get what they deserve. If they have committed a crime they should get the punishment in proportion.
    • Specificity of the death sentence: Certain nations have peculiar security concerns which are not often universal. Example: India has been a repeated victim of terrorism and also had faced secession issues. Hence proponents argue that such national security concerns require death sentences.
    • Gravest of grave crimes: Some crimes are too grave for letting death penalty go. Example: Nirbhaya case in Delhi.

    Arguments against Death Penalty

    • Its opponents argue that statistically, death penalty has not brought deterence in the nature of heinous crimes.
    • From an ethical perspective, retribution should be done away with. Rather, the criminal justice system should be reformative.
    • Chances of an innocent getting executed remains as human errors in judicial proceedings cant be ruled out.

    Way Ahead

    • Not much efforts are made to dig deeper into a convict’s childhood experiences, history of physical and mental health issues, exposure to traumatic events and social and cultural factors crucial for doing an informed inquiry.
    • The coming up of ‘mitigation experts’ will make the trial court judges have a holistic view about the circumstances the convict committed the crime.

    Source: IE