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Annual Death Penalty Report, 2023

By Amigos IAS

Why is it in the news?

  • The Annual Death Penalty Report 2023, prepared by Project 39A linked with the National Law University, Delhi, sheds light on the state of death penalty practices in India.
About Death Penalty

·       The Death penalty represents the state’s authorization to execute an individual as punishment for a crime, constituting the most severe form of punishment under specific penal laws.

·       The legal process involves the trial court issuing the death sentence, which can then be appealed in higher courts such as the High Court and the Supreme Court of India.

·       The President holds the authority to grant pardons or commute sentences.

 Major Findings of the Report

  • The report highlights a significant 71% increase in the population of inmates sentenced to death row since 2015, indicating a rising trend in the imposition of capital punishment.
  • Uttar Pradesh emerges with the largest death row population, housing 119 prisoners facing the death penalty.
  • Trial courts in 2023 awarded death sentences to 120 prisoners, reflecting a considerable number of cases resulting in the most severe punishment.
  • However, the appellate Courts, comprising the Supreme Court and all High Courts, confirmed merely one death sentence in 2023. This disparity suggests a cautious approach or critical scrutiny by higher judiciary bodies, with many sentences being commuted or leading to acquittals.
  • Homicidal rape cases constitute a significant portion, with 55% of the 120 death sentences awarded in 2023 related to such offenses.
  • Despite a decrease in the disposal of death sentence cases by High Courts compared to 2022, the overall number of prisoners on death row increased.

Concerns:

  • The report underscores concerns regarding the quality of police investigations and evidence appreciation by lower courts, as indicated by the high rate of acquittals and remands by higher Courts.
  • Trial courts’ imposition of death sentences in 86.96% of cases without sufficient information about the accused raises serious procedural and legal concerns, violating established judicial mandates.

Arguments in Favor of Death Penalty

  • The 35th Report of the Law Commission of India (1962) supports retaining the death penalty within the Indian judicial system.
  • Advocates argue that capital punishment acts as a deterrent against heinous crimes, serving to prevent individuals from committing such acts out of fear of facing severe consequences.
  • Proponents also advocate for the death penalty on grounds of retribution and justice for victims and their families, as well as ensuring the permanent incapacitation of individuals posing significant threats to society.
  • Furthermore, supporters argue that the death penalty reflects society’s moral condemnation of certain acts, thereby reinforcing the sanctity of human life by holding individuals accountable for their actions.

Arguments Against Death Penalty

  • The global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty is cited, with a significant majority of countries either abolishing or suspending capital punishment by the end of 2021.
  • Critics highlight the disproportionate impact of the death penalty on economically disadvantaged individuals, with a significant majority of death row inmates in India coming from such backgrounds.
  • Alternatives such as life imprisonment without parole are advocated for, ensuring public safety without the irreversible consequences associated with execution.
  • Concerns regarding the risk of wrongful execution are raised, emphasizing the fallibility of the justice system and the potential for miscarriages of justice based on flawed evidence or legal errors.
  • Psychological effects on all parties involved in the execution process, including prison staff, witnesses, and the condemned individual, are also highlighted as ethical and moral concerns.
Global Abolition Trend

·       The report acknowledges the global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty, with an increasing number of countries opting to eliminate or suspend capital punishment in recent years.

·       Notable examples include Ghana, where Parliament passed a Bill in 2023 to abolish the death penalty for ordinary crimes, reflecting a growing international consensus against capital punishment.

Way Forward

  • The report emphasizes the need for a balanced and inclusive approach to the death penalty issue in India, taking into account diverse perspectives while respecting human dignity and upholding principles of fairness and justice.
  • Collaboration among government agencies, civil society organizations, legal experts, and other stakeholders is deemed essential to explore alternative approaches to addressing serious crimes while safeguarding human rights and promoting societal well-being.

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