Friday, February 8, 2013

Sentence of 2 commuted. Opinion of society to be considered while awarding death sentence

The Supreme Court of India in its judgement dated 7.2.2013 has commuted the death sentence Gurvail Singh and Jaj Singh in Criminal Appeal No. 1055 of 2006. The incident is of 21.8.2000 where 4 members of a family were killed due to land dispute. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had upheld the conviction and the death sentence that was awarded to the 2 accused in this case by the trial court. The Supreme Court while commuting the sentence of both the convicts has considered the mitigating circumstances and the age of the convicts at the time of the incident. The Supreme Court has held that while awarding death sentence there should be aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstances at all. The court has further held that, even if both the tests are satisfied against the accused even then the court has to finally apply the rarest of rare case test, which depends on the perception of the society and not judge centric, that is whether the society will approve the awarding of death sentence to certain types of crimes or not. Though the court has commuted the sentence in this case, the observations of the supreme court regarding the will of the society to be considered while awarding death sentence may set a bad precedent. The concern of the society regarding sentence of a person cannot be considered and law and the legislative intent is the sole basis on which the awarding the sentence of death should be decided. Sentencing is and has always been a prerogative of the judges. The opinion of the society may keep varying on the circumstances of each and every case. What forms the opinion of the society and how it is formed is also an important issue and it’s very difficult to conclude whether the opinion has been formed on the basis of trustworthy information or through information that has not been verified and at many times may not be true. The opinion of a society is a very subjective matter and for similar crimes the opinion of society may be different. Apart from the fact that most of the opinion these days is formed on the basis of the media reports, it will also vary on the basis of demography, the position of the accused in the society, the class and caste of the accused and the class and caste of the victim. We may be looking at a dangerous trend if the judicial opinions regarding the life or death of a person are being based on the opinions of the society at large.

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