NEW DELHI (TIP): Taking note of the high-pitched push for abolition of death penalty when Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon desperately attempted to avoid the gallows, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked whether life imprisonment could be truncated through remission if death penalty was done away with.
The court was reacting to the demand from a section of legal experts for abolition of death penalty while dealing with petitions by five men rom Chhattisgarh challenging their conviction for a murder. They were seeking bail during pendency of their appeal on the ground that they had been in jail for more than five years.
A bench of Justices T S Thakur and V Gopala Gowda said, “Today , there is a movement against death penalty . They say that instead of hanging a condemned prisoner, put him in jail for entire life.” The Supreme Court on Thursday, while raising the question whether abolition of death penalty and limiting life term to 14 years could co-exist, said, “Most of the prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment get out of jail after 14 years as government remits the rest of the sentence.And general public thinks that life imprisonment is only for 14 years. If convicts are awarded life sentence even in brutal and heinous crimes, they come to court and ask for bail during pendency of their appeal against conviction if they have served five or more years in jail on the ground that life sentence is only for 14 years. Is it not incongruous?” The bench was possibly attempting to include an important point -if life sentence is to be awarded in `rarest of rare’ category of murder cases where death penalty is given at present, would it mean these are at par with other life sentences spanning 14 years?
Over the years, the SC has been extremely reluctant to award death penalty and has been finding some lacuna or the other in concurrent judgments of trial court and high court awarding death penalty to commute it to life imprisonment.
But it has been reluctant to completely do away with award of death penalty , saying there were certain cases where, as long as the extreme penalty was stipulated by law, capital punishment was in sync with the gravity and brutality of the crime and socie ty’s cry for justice.
The attempt by the bench of Justices Thakur and Gowda will have a strong bearing on future debates and could well be taken note of by another bench which has reserved judgment on the crucial issue -whether life sentence means imprisonment for entire life -in the case relating to convicts in Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
Immediately after the SC commuted the death penalty of four convicts in the case to life imprisonment, the Tamil Nadu government used its constitutional power to decide commutation of the rest of their sentence saying they had already undergone 23 years imprisonment.