As Delhi bus gangrape case moves towards closure, some questions on death penalty answered

News:The 2012 Delhi bus gangrape case is moving towards its final conclusion. with the convicts being given death sentence.


What is Death Penalty?

  • Death penalty also known as Capital punishment is a government sanctioned practice whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for the gravest of crimes such as murder, acts of terrorism, gang rape among others.
  • Article 21 ensures the Fundamental Right to life and liberty for all persons.It adds no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
  • This has been legally construed to mean if there is a procedure which is fair and valid, then the state by framing a law can deprive a person of his life.

Various Supreme Court Judgements on Death Penalty:The Supreme Court has always said that the death sentence should be given rarely:

Mithu vs State of Punjab(1983):

  • In Mithu vs State of Punjab(1983), the Supreme Court has ruled that the mandatory death penalty is unconstitutional.It struck down Section 303 in the IPC, which entailed a mandatory death sentence for a person who commits murder while serving a life term in another case.
  • The Supreme Court also ruled that Section 303 violated Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life) since an unreasonable distinction was sought to be made between two classes of murders.

Various other cases:

  • The Supreme Court in ‘State of Punjab vs Dalbir Singh’ in 2012 has ruled that mandatory death penalty as punishment for crimes under Section 27 (3) of the Arms Act,1959 was unconstitutional.
  • In ‘Jagmohan Singh vs State of UP’ (1973), then in ‘Rajendra Prasad vs State of UP’ (1979), and finally in ‘Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab’ (1980),the Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutional validity of the death penalty.
  • It said that if capital punishment is provided in the law and the procedure is a fair, just and reasonable one, the death sentence can be awarded to a convict. 
  • However,this will only be in the rarest of rare cases and the courts should render special reasons while sending a person to the gallows.

What are the rarest of the rare crimes?

The principles of what would constitute the rarest of rare were laid down by the top court in the landmark judgment in Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab case.

  • First, is there something uncommon about the crime which renders the sentence of imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for a death sentence.
  • Second, are there circumstances of the crime such that there is no alternative but to impose death sentence even after according maximum weightage to the mitigating circumstances which speak in favour of the offenders.
  • In Delhi gangrape case,the apex court have agreed that the case meets the test of rarest of rare crime.