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Death Sentence Valid Or Not? Top Court To Review Capital Punishment Clause In SC/ST Act

SC/ST Act mandates the imposition of capital punishment on an individual if their false and fabricated evidence leads to the conviction, sentencing, and execution of a member of the SC/ST community.

Edited By : simran rajpal | Updated: May 15, 2024 07:40 IST
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Top Court To Review Capital Punishment Clause In SC_ST Act

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to review the validity of a provision in the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. This provision requires the imposition of capital punishment on an individual if their false and fabricated evidence leads to the conviction, sentencing, and execution of a member of the SC/ST community.

A bench comprising Justices Surya Kant and K V Viswanathan heard a challenge against the rarely utilized provision. The challenge argued that the provision is inconsistent with the “rarest-of-rare” benchmark set by the Supreme Court for awarding capital punishment.

In the Bachan Singh case on May 9, 1980, a five-judge Supreme Court bench ruled that courts could impose the death penalty only in ‘rarest of rare’ murder cases characterized by extreme brutality. The Supreme Court stated that “…for those convicted of murder, life imprisonment is generally the norm, and the death sentence is an exceptional measure…respect for the sanctity of human life implies refraining from taking a life through legal means. This should be done only in extremely rare cases when no other option is unequivocally viable.”

Bench Of Judges On SC/ST Act

During the hearing, PIL petitioner and advocate Rishi Malhotra brought to the attention of a bench comprising Justices Kant and Viswanathan that Section 3(2)(i) of the SC/ST Act stipulates that if an innocent member of the SC or ST community is “convicted and executed due to such false or fabricated evidence, the person who provides or fabricates such false evidence shall be punished with death.”

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He informed the court that another five-judge bench, in the Mithu vs Punjab case in 1983, struck down Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code. This section imposed a mandatory death sentence on a person who committed murder while serving a life sentence for another murder. The decision was made by applying the ratio of the Bachan Singh judgment, declaring it unconstitutional.

Justice Kant noted that the SC/ST Act was not one of the archaic colonial laws but was enacted by Parliament in 1989. Justice Vishwanath emphasized that the norm is life imprisonment, with capital punishment being an exception. Malhotra argued that the ‘rarest of rare’ jurisprudence established in the Bachan Singh case had evolved over the decades. The Supreme Court has made the imposition of the death penalty rare by granting discretion to the judiciary to determine the appropriate punishment for a heinous murder. This is done by examining various aspects related to the crime, the accused, the circumstances, and importantly, the potential for rehabilitation.

Reforms were made in some of the Acts

The court was informed by Attorney General R Venkataramani that reforms have been made in the IPC, CrPC, and Evidence Act. He mentioned that he would consult with the government regarding implementing reforms in other penal laws. The bench agreed that this approach would be beneficial and scheduled the matter for a hearing in July.

The court asked repeatedly if there were any cases of individuals receiving the death penalty under Section 3(2)(i) of the SC/ST Act. Both the Attorney General and Malhotra confirmed that they had not encountered a single case.

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First published on: May 15, 2024 07:40 AM IST

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