In a major boost for anti-death penalty jurisprudence, the Supreme Court of India on Friday, 7th April, 2017 observed that death penalty breaches the reformative theory of punishment under Criminal Law.
A Bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton F. Nariman made this observation in an appeal filed by the State of Maharashtra against a verdict of the Bombay High Court in a double-murder case. The Trial Court had found the Accused Nisar Ramzan Sayyed guilty of murdering his three year old son Sayej and pregnant wife Summayya, thus was sentenced to death by Additional Sessions Judge, Shrirampur. The Bombay High Court had, however, acquitted the Accused. The incident was the culmination of a series of ill-treatment episodes made by the convict to the deceased wife from whom he was demanding Rs. 50,000 for purchasing an Auto Rickshaw as Dowry. Summayya’s father being a poor man was unable to fulfil the demand.
On29thOctober, 2010, the Accused set the his wife on fire by pouring kerosene oil and also threw his three year old son on the burning body of his wife because of which Summayya and their son sustained burn injuries resulting in the death of the son on the spot. Later Summayya was taken to the hospital, but she succumbed to her injuries on 3rd November, 2010, after giving birth to a dead baby fetus.
The Apex Court, setting aside the Bombay High Court Judgment of acquittal, restored the conviction under Section 302 and 498A of Indian Penal Code. The Supreme Court of India goes on to consider whether death penalty should be awarded in this case. It then relies on the 262nd Report of the Law Commission and states:
“…the Law Commission of India has submitted its Report No.262 titled “The Death Penalty” after the reference was made from this Court to study the issue of Death Penalty in India to “allow for an up-to-date and informeddiscussion and debate on this subject”. We have noticed that the Law Commission of India has recommended the abolition of death penalty for all the crimes other than terrorism related offences and waging war (offences affecting National Security).”
The Supreme Court of Indiaproceeded bydeciding against upholding the Bombay High Court order imposing death sentence on the Accused, the Bench made the most interesting observation regarding Death Penalty andheld:
“We have noticed that the Law Commission of India has recommended the abolition of death penalty for all the crimes other than terrorism related offences and waging war (offences affecting National Security). Today when capital punishment has become a distinctive feature of death penalty apparatus in India which somehow breaches the reformative theory of punishment under criminal law, we are not inclined to award the same in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the present case.”
The Apex Court, after taking note of the dying declaration of his wife and other circumstantial evidence, held that Sayyed’s guilt was proved beyond reasonable doubt but this was not a “rarest of the rare case” that warranted Sayyed to be sentenced to death. The Apex Court therefore, imposed the death sentence of the convict to imprisonment till his natural life.
Senior Legal Associate
The Indian Lawyer