SC five-judge bench to consider standards for mitigating circumstances in death penalty cases

September 19, 2022 8:34 p.m. STI

New Delhi [India]Sep 19 (ANI): The Supreme Court referred to a larger panel of five justices the issue related to the development of guidelines on potential “mitigating factors” that should be taken into account in the treatment of cases where the sentence of death is contemplated.
A bench of Chief Justice of India UU Lalit and Justices S Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia issued an order in this regard.
The court observed that there was a difference of opinion and approach between the different judgments on the question whether, after registering a conviction for a capital offence, under the law the court was obliged to hold a separate sentencing hearing.
The court noted in the order that there is a clear conflict of opinion between two sets of three-judge panel decisions on the subject.

“As noted earlier, this Bachan Singh court had taken into consideration the fairness given to a convict by a separate hearing, as an important safeguard to maintain the imposition of the death penalty in the rarest of cases, considering relying on the recommendations of the 48th Report of the Law Commission,” the court said.
The court also noted that in all cases where the imposition of the death penalty is a choice of sentence, the aggravating circumstances would always be on the record and form part of the prosecution’s evidence, leading to a conviction. On the other hand, the accused can hardly be expected to enter mitigating circumstances into the record, for the reason that the stage for doing so is post-conviction.
“It places the convict at a hopelessly disadvantageous position, tipping the scales heavily against him,” the court said.
“This tribunal is of the view that clarity in this matter is necessary to ensure a uniform approach to the issue of affording a real and meaningful opportunity, as opposed to a formal hearing, to the ‘accused/convicted, on the issue of sentencing,’ the court said.
The court was seized with a case initiated by itself to consider the broader issue of consideration of the procedure to be followed by courts across the country when deciding whether to impose the death penalty. The court took suo moto on the matter to develop guidelines. (ANI)

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