NEW DELHI: The Law Commission on Monday recommended swift abolition of death penalty except in terror-related cases, noting it does not serve the penological goal of deterrence any more than life imprisonment.
The recommendation by the nine-member panel was, however, not unanimous, with one full-time member and two government representatives dissenting and supporting the retention of capital punishment. In its last report, the panel said there was a need to debate on how to bring about the “abolition of death penalty in all respects in the very near future, soonest”. The panel said, “The options are many from moratorium to a full-fledged abolition bill.”
The Law Commission does not wish to commit to a particular approach for the abolition of death sentence. All it says is that such a method for abolition should be compatible with the fundamental value of achieving swift, irreversible and absolute abolition.
While supporting death for those convicted in terror cases and for waging war against the country, the report said that though there is no valid penological justification for treating terrorism differently from other crimes, concern is often raised that abolition of capital punishment for terror-related offences and waging war will affect national security. The panel also questioned the “rarest of rare” doctrine in awarding death to convicts.
While supporting abolition of capital punishment, the panel said that in the last decade, the Supreme Court had on numerous occasions expressed concern over arbitrary handing down of the death sentence. It said the apex court has repeatedly pointed out gaps and illegalities in how the executive has discharged its mercy powers.
Dwelling on the issue of clemency, the report said the exercise of mercy powers under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution “have failed in acting as the final safeguard against miscarriage of justice in the imposition of the death sentence”.
The report said between January 26, 1950, and until today, successive Presidents have accepted 306 mercy petitions and rejected 131.