Naysayers to the death penalty can take heart. A 30-year-old Supreme Court judgment laying down "rarest of rare case" guidelines on imposition of death penalty may soon see further tightening that could make award of capital punishment an absolute rare phenomenon. In a recent order, the Supreme Court said judges, while awarding death penalty in mechanical consonance with the 1980 'Bachan Singh' judgment,appear to have lost sight of vital ingredients "the lesser alternative(life imprisonment) is unquestionably foreclosed" and "objective fairnesss tandards." These 2 ingredients must essentially be fulfiled by judges before awarding the death penalty, but have not been complied with diligently in the recent past, said a Bench of Justices S B Sinha (since retired) and M K Sharma. Concerned by the varying interpretation of the "rarest of rare case" guidelines laid down in Bachan Singh judgment, the apex court said time had come for an attempt towards deciphering a common view on this to usherin "some objectivity to the precedent on death penalty which is crumbling down under the weight of disparate interpretations". "We may come across instances where the case may belong to the rarest ofrare category, but in court's view the 'objective fairness standards'necessary to be met before death penalty can be awarded have not been complied with diligently," the Bench said. The judgment came in a case in which the apex court upheld the life sentence awarded to Mohd Farooq Abdul Gafur and others in the 1999 murder attempt on Shiv Sena leader Milind Vaidya. Though Vaidya escaped without injuries, the bullets fired by the assailants killed. It took note of the concern of legal commentators that while the rich and powerful never got the extreme penalty, "it is invariably the marginalise dand destitute who suffer extreme penalty ultimately."
Source: The Times of India, 18 August 2009
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