SC examines key guidelines for trial courts and HCs on the death penalty | Latest India News

Rushing on the indifferent approach of lower courts following its landmark decision on the death penalty, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday it would require lower courts to order psychological evaluations of convicts and request a report on their conduct, before deciding whether death is the only appropriate punishment.

“Unfortunately, no other court is carrying out this exercise. At the end of a case’s lifecycle, we do what should have been done by the lower courts or high courts if appeals are pending there. We will incorporate this into our order in some way so that this practice of psychological assessment and seeking other reports is followed at the trial court level,” said a panel headed by Judge Uday. U Lalit.

“We are now trying to salvage something that had to be done at two levels before (by the first instance courts or the high courts). All those people languishing behind bars who have appealed deserve such a system. We are trying to shape something now and we want the help of all stakeholders,” added the bench, which also included Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi.

The bench was hearing an appeal in a death sentence case from Madhya Pradesh. On February 14, in the same case, he ordered the execution of the verdict of the Supreme Court in the case of Bachan Singh against the State of Punjab (1980). This verdict established the doctrine of the “rarest of the few” crime in the imposition of the death penalty while imposing a comparative analysis of aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

The bench that day asked state government authorities for reports on the prisoner’s latest mental health and conduct which they said would effectively assist them in determining an appropriate sentence for the accused.

The order issued on February 14 is part of a series of orders issued recently by the judiciary in different death penalty cases requiring an assessment of the defendant’s psychological health and conduct before final hearings. These orders underscored the mandate of the Bachan Singh case that relevant material regarding mitigating factors should be recorded in death penalty cases.

On Tuesday, the judiciary received reports from Madhya Pradesh government authorities, but the defendant’s lawyer asked for time to finally discuss the case since the reports on the defendant’s psychological assessment and conduct were not given to him.

Counsel for the defendant, assisted by researchers from Project 39A, also complained about the alleged inadequacies of the existing system of preparation of reports by probation officers and other prison officials. Project 39A, which works under the aegis of the National Law University, Delhi, is a criminal justice research and legal aid program that works on death penalty cases.

The lawyer argued that it was necessary to have a “mitigating investigator” who could present a full report on all mitigating factors in relation to a death row inmate.

The bench, however, pointed out that it has recently begun the exercise of enforcing a four-decade-old judgment and therefore introducing another layer of process would not serve the ends of justice. without first ensuring that the old judgment is implemented in letter and spirit.

“We want to tighten something up instead of adding another layer… We have passed five or six such ordinances where we have implemented Bachan Singh (judgment) principles. We can also say that for all cases pending in the Magistrates Courts and High Courts, the modality of Psychological Assessment and Probation Officer Report on Conduct etc. should be followed,” the bench said.

He added: ‘If you think there needs to be more clarity on the role of probation officers, give us something concrete. And this must be in accordance with the legal regime. We don’t want to add another layer of processes (mitigation investigators) without really understanding its necessity and functions. »

The court then gave Project 39A’s lawyer and researchers more time to elucidate the shortcomings of the existing system and adjourned the case to a later date. During the proceedings, the bench also praised the work done by Project 39A.

“You (Project 39A) have done a great job in this area. I learned that some researchers didn’t even have an office. So I spoke to NALSA authorities and they agreed to set aside a room in the new NALSA office for Project 39A,” said Justice Lalit, executive chairman of the National Legal Services Authority.

The Bachan Singh case established that a court must look at both the crime and the criminal and then decide whether the death penalty is the only appropriate sentence in the facts of the case. Emphasis should also be placed on aggravating and mitigating factors which depend on the facts and circumstances of the case, he said.

In Machi Singh vs State of Punjab (1983), the Supreme Court elucidated the doctrine of “the rarest of the few” and established some guiding principles in death penalty cases. Aggravating circumstances included the manner in which the crime was committed, the motives for the commission of the crime, the seriousness of the crime and the victim of the crime. Mitigating circumstances included a defendant’s possibility of reform and rehabilitation, mental health and background.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that an unexplained delay in execution was grounds for commuting the death sentence and that an inmate, family member or even a public-minded citizen could file a petition. in order to obtain such a commutation. She said extending the execution of a death sentence has a “dehumanizing effect” on convicts who must face the agony of waiting years in the shadow of death while awaiting death. their plea for mercy.

That same year, a Constitutional bench ruled that a petition for review by a death row inmate would be heard by a three-judge bench in open court. These cases were previously considered by benches of two judges in the chamber of judges without any pleadings.


    Utkarsh Anand is legal editor at the Hindustan Times. He writes on law, justice and governance.
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