What is Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab Case 1980?
- The Constitution Bench judgment of Supreme Court of India in Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab (1980) (2 SCC 684) made it very clear that Capital punishment in India can be given only in rarest of rare cases. This judgement was in line with the previous verdicts in Jagmohan Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (1973), and then in Rajendra Prasad vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (1979).
- The Supreme Court of India ruled that the death penalty should be imposed only in “the rarest of rare cases.” While stating that honour killings fall within the “rarest of the rare” category, Court has recommended the death penalty be extended to those found guilty of committing “honour killings”, which deserve to be a capital crime.
- The Supreme Court also recommended death sentences to be imposed on police officials who commit police brutality in the form of encounter killings.
- An appeal filed in 2013 by Vikram Singh and another person facing the penalty of the death sentence questioned the constitutional validity of Section 364A of the Indian Penal Code.
What Is Capital Punishment? | Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab Case 1980
- Capital punishment is the punishment which involves the legal killing of a person who has committed a serious crime such as murder.
- The term Death Penalty is sometimes used interchangeably with Capital Punishment, even though the imposition of the death penalty is not always followed by execution due to the possibility of commutation to life imprisonment.
- Article 21 ensures the Fundamental Right to life and liberty for all persons.
- It adds no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
- While the central government has consistently maintained it would keep the death penalty in the statute books to act as a deterrent, and for those who are a threat to society, the Supreme Court too has upheld the constitutional validity of capital punishment in “rarest of rare” cases.
What Is A “Rarest Of Rare” Case?
- The principles of what would constitute the “rarest of rare” were laid down by the top court in the landmark judgment in ‘Bachan Singh’.
- Two prime questions, the top court held, may be asked and answered.
- First, is there something uncommon about the crime which renders the sentence of imprisonment for life inadequate and calls for a death sentence?
- Second, are there circumstances of the crime such that there is no alternative but to impose the death sentence even after according maximum weightage to the mitigating circumstances which speak in favour of the offenders?
- Courts have agreed that the Delhi gangrape case meets the test of rarest of rare
Analysis | Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab Case 1980
- Indian Judiciary has made it clear that death penalty must strictly be restricted to “rarest of rare” cases.
- Though this view favors the right to life under Article 21 the minimization of imposition of death sentence has led to increase in crimes. Heinous offences committed are awarded a lesser penalty and the offenders are not serious about their consequences.
- National discussion about the death penalty has resurfaced from time to time. The Supreme Court addressed the question of constitutionality of the death penalty for the first time in Jagmohan Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh “The death sentence does not extinguish all the freedoms guaranteed under Article 19 (1) and it was also held that it was not violative of art 14 of the Constitution on the ground that unguarded and uncontrolled discretion is given to judges to impose either capital punishment or imprisonment for life. Thus the death penalty became the exception rather than the rule”. However, the Bachan Singh’s Case decision did not elaborate the criteria for identifying “rarest of rare” cases. The Bachan Singh case also does not explain as to what falls under the purview of “rarest of rare cases”.