NEW DELHI — A new report by the Law Commission is set to recommend abolition of the death penalty in all cases except terror attacks, marking a reversal of its earlier stand.
The Commission, chaired by Justice (Retd) A P Shah is likely to submit its report to the Supreme Court this week. A draft report circulated among members says that the death penalty should be used only for those convicted in instances of terrorism. India is one of only 59 countries in the world where the penalty is still in place.
Justice (retd) S N Kapoor, Justice (Retd) Usha Mehra and Mool Chand Sharma are the members of the panel. Law Secretary P K Malhotra and Legislative Secretary Sanjay Singh -- both from the Law Ministry -- are the ex officio members.
A Law Commission consultation process on the report saw a majority opposing death penalty. Sources privy to the development said at least one member and one of the two ex officio members have expressed their reservation.
“The Commission suggests that the death penalty be immediately abolished for all crimes other than terror offences. At the same time, for terror offences a moratorium as regards sentencing and execution be immediately put in place. This moratorium can be reviewed after a reasonable period," the draft report said. “The death penalty has no demonstrated utility in deterring crime or incapacitating offenders, any more than its alternative - imprisonment for life. The quest for retribution as a penal justification cannot descend into cries for vengeance."
The commission has said that despite the Supreme Court's guidelines for death penalty — only in 'rarest of rare' cases — it continues to be awarded in a manner that “continues to be remain excessive, arbitrary, unprincipled, judge-centric and prone to error”.
The court had spelt out its stance on death penalty in the landmark Bachan Singh vs Union of India case in 1980. At time this was still a prevalent form of punishment in most countries. Since then almost two-thirds of nations have either abolished the law altogether, or have asked courts to never apply it.
The report assumes significance as it comes days after a debate was generated over the hanging of Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon.
The Commission is working overtime to complete the report as its three-year term is coming to an end on August 31. A copy will also be handed over to the Law Minister as any call on changes in penal provisions will be taken by Parliament.
The Supreme Court, in Santosh Kumar Satish Bhushan Bariyar vs Maharashtra and Shankar Kisanrao Khade vs Maharashtra, had suggested that the Law Commission should study the death penalty in India to "allow for an up-to-date and informed discussion and debate on the subject".
(With agency inputs)