The Calcutta High Court recently emphasised that the death penalty must only be invoked as the last resort when it is clear that there is no scope for the rehabilitation of a convict.
A judgment was passed earlier this month, reflecting this observation, by a Bench of Justices Joymalya Bagchi and Suvra Ghosh. The judgment states,
“One must not lose sight of the fact that imposition of death penalty is a last resort which the court does most unwillingly and with a very heavy heart. It ought not to be awarded in cases where the glimmer of hope and rehabilitation is not completely lost.
On the other hand, if upon balancing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, a possibility, even if slender, to salvage the soul of a condemned convict surfaces, every effort should be made towards that end and not to write off the convict to the gallows with utmost haste.”
The Court emphasised that concern for human dignity and life must underscore the jurisprudence on the death penalty. In this regard, it has been observed,
"If the penology of death jurisprudence is not actuated with humanism and concern for human dignity and life, it runs counter to the constitutional essence of just, reasonable and fair sentencing and would degenerate into retributive or bloodthirsty jurisprudence.”
The Bench further added that even if a convict appears to lack sensitivity, a higher standard is expected in response, given the Constitutional scheme of things.
“Even if the convict lacks in sensitivity and respect to human dignity and life, it does not give justification under our constitutional scheme to the State to degrade itself to the same standard lest ‘eye for an eye’ as the Father of the Nation sagely remarked would make ‘the whole world blind’.”
The Court was dealing with a case involving the rape and murder of a 13 year old child in 2013. The trial court convicted the accused and sentenced him to death. The same was challenged before the Calcutta High Court.
The High Court, in turn, found that the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was guilty of the heinous crime. However, on an examination of aggravating and mitigating factors, and in view of the Court’s opinion that there was potential for the rehabilitation of the convict, the Bench commuted the death penalty served to one of rigorous life imprisonment. Justice Bagchi, who authored the judgment, observed, inter alia,
“… in view of the report from the Correctional Home with regard to good and sociable conduct of the appellant. Not only have the Correctional Home authorities recommended his good conduct, his co-inmates also described him as a supportive person. In the face of such report, I am unwilling to concur with the opinion of the trial court that the balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances gives rise to the irresistible conclusion that possibility of rehabilitation of the appellant-convict is completely ruled out and alternative sentence of life imprisonment remains wholly foreclosed.”
The High Court, therefore, sentenced the appellant as follows.
“… in view of the grave and heinous nature of crime committed by the appellant-convict and to rule out every possibility of recidivism, I am of the opinion that the appellant may be directed to suffer rigorous imprisonment for life without remission for a period of 35 years and to pay a fine of Rs.20,000/-, in default, to suffer simple imprisonment for one year more for the offence punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.
Sentence on the score of Section 376(2)(i) of the Indian Penal Code is also modified and he is directed to suffer rigorous imprisonment for 30 years and to pay a fine of Rs.10,000/-, in default, to suffer simple imprisonment for ten months more; both the sentences shall run concurrently."
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