Supreme Court wants constitution bench to set norms for death sentences | India News – Times of India


NEW DELHI: Emphasising lack of uniformity in approach and differences of opinion on how to proceed and analyse mitigating circumstances, while awarding death sentence to a convict by courts, the Supreme Court on Monday referred the issue to a five-judge bench Constitution bench for a comprehensive and authoritative adjudication.
A bench of Chief Justice U U Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia noted in its order that in some cases, trial courts have summarily awarded death sentence on the same day of convicting an accused, thus denying the defence to bring on record the attenuating considerations to convince the court that the convict did not deserve capital punishment. The court also said that even the apex court had said such an order by a lower court cannot be quashed merely on the ground that conviction and sentencing orders were passed on the same day.

Noting that there has been a difference of opinion among previous apex court benches on how much time would be “sufficient” to be given to a convict to present his/her case against a death sentence and what should be the procedure to evaluate the mitigating circumstances, the court said there was a need to have clarity of the issue and directed that the case may be placed before the Chief Justice to constitute a larger bench for it.
The verdict came in the backdrop of concerns expressed by legal experts and judges over the lack of unanimity over how to define “mitigating factors”, based on which death sentence can be commuted.

“It is also a fact that in all cases where imposition of capital punishment is a choice of sentence, aggravating circumstances would always be on record, and would be part of the prosecution’s evidence, leading to conviction, whereas the accused can scarcely be expected to place mitigating circumstances on the record, for the reason that the stage for doing so is after conviction. This places the convict at a hopeless disadvantage, tilting the scales heavily against him. This court is of the opinion that it is necessary to have clarity in the matter to ensure a uniform approach on the question of granting real and meaningful opportunity, as opposed to a formal hearing, to the accused/convict, on the issue of sentence,” the bench said.
It said that the apex court in its various judgements acknowledged that “meaningful, real and effective” hearing must be accorded to the accused, with the opportunity to adduce material relevant to the question of sentencing. The bench, however, said that the issue as to what constitutes ‘sufficient time’ at the trial court stage has not so far been addressed by the court.
‘Clear conflict of opinion’
The court also said that even the apex court had said such an order by a lower court cannot be quashed merely on the ground that conviction and sentencing orders were passed on the same day. The verdict came in the backdrop of concerns expressed by legal experts and judges over the lack of unanimity over how to define “mitigating factors”, based on which death sentence can be commuted.
“It is also a fact that in all cases where imposition of capital punishment is a choice of sentence, aggravating circumstances would always be on record, and would be part of the prosecution’s evidence, leading to conviction, whereas the accused can scarcely be expected to place mitigating circumstances on the record, for the reason that the stage for doing so is after conviction. This places the convict at a hopeless disadvantage, tilting the scales heavily against him. This court is of the opinion that it is necessary to have clarity in the matter to ensure a uniform approach on the question of granting real and meaningful opportunity, as opposed to a formal hearing, to the accused/convict, on the issue of sentence,” the bench said.
It said that the apex court in its various judgments acknowledged that “meaningful, real and effective” hearing must be accorded to the accused, with the opportunity to adduce material relevant to the question of sentencing. The bench, however, added that the issue as to what constitutes ‘sufficient time’ at the trial court stage has not so far been addressed by the court. “What is conspicuously absent, is consideration and contemplation about the time this may require. In cases where it was felt that real and effective hearing may not have been given (on account of the same day sentencing), this court was satisfied that the flaw had been remedied at the appellate (or review stage), by affording the accused a chance to adduce material, and thus fulfilling the mandate of Section 235(2),” the bench said.
It said there was a clear conflict of opinion between decisions of two three-judge benches on the subject and the granting of a separate hearing to a convict is an important safeguard to uphold imposition of death sentence in the rarest of rare cases.





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