Supreme Court initiates suo moto case to lay down guidelines for death penalty cases

The apex court sought assistance from Attorney General KK Venugopal, and also issued a notice to the National Legal Services Authority.
For representational purposes (File Photo |EPS)
For representational purposes (File Photo |EPS)

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday initiated a suo motu case to develop guidelines to be followed by courts across the country, while considering matters which deal with death sentences.

The top court said that it will examine and institutionalise a mechanism involved in collection of information and other data points to decide the award of sentence in death penalty cases. A three judge bench led by Justice UU Lalit sought assistance from Attorney General KK Venugopal, and also issued a notice to the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).

The bench indicated that it would lay down guidelines to be followed by courts across the country in connection with cases involving death sentences. The bench also orally observed that convicts are at a stage where the litigation assistance is bare minimum.

The matter would now be heard on May 10.

The Court order came while hearing a matter challenging the death sentence. The petitioner Irfan alias Bhayu Mevati has challenged the death penalty awarded by a local court in Madhya Pradesh and and confirmed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The convict was facing allegation of raping a minor girl.

Last month, the court decided to examine issues, including revamping the manner in which death sentences are handed down by the courts.

The top court registered the case to examine how the courts, which deal with death sentence matters, can develop a comprehensive analysis on the nature of the crime and the accused. It also pointed at the mitigating circumstances, which the concerned court can look into, while deciding whether a death sentence should be awarded or not.

The top court initiated the process after an application was filed by anti-death penalty body, Project 39A of National Law University (NLU), Delhi.

The plea had said that in the context of death eligible cases, mitigation is an exercise of collection, documentation and analysis of a wide range of information like historical, cultural, social, familial and individual factors and any other relevant factors that influence an individual's perception, response, and their understanding of the world and people around them.

"The purpose of the exercise is not to provide an excuse or justification for the offence. Its purpose is to better appreciate the social and individual context and circumstances of the accused while determining the extent of their culpabitliy and blameworthiness in relation to the death penalty." It said,

According to the sixth edition of the Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics Report, As on 31st December 2021, there were 488 prisoners on death row across India (a steep rise of nearly 21% from 2020), with Uttar Pradesh having the highest number at 86. This is the highest the death row population has been since 2004 as per the data from the Prison Statistics published by the National Crime Records Bureau.

The report Deathworthy by NLU Delhi, presented empirical data on mental illness and intellectual disability among death row prisoners in India and the psychological consequences of living on death row. The report finds that an overwhelming majority of death row prisoners interviewed (62.2 per cent) had a mental illness and 11 per cent had intellectual disability.

The proportion of persons with mental illness and intellectual disability on death row is overwhelmingly higher than the proportion in the community population. The report also establishes correlations between conditions of death row incarceration and mental illness and ill-health.

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