Criminal LawMurder

The Mandatory Death Penalty


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The mandatory death penalty continues to remain on the statute books in India though it has been held to be unconstitutional. In Mithu v. State of Punjab [(1983) 2 SCC 277] , the Supreme Court has struck down Section 303 as void and unconstitutional for being violative of both Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. it regards life-convict to be a dangerous class without any scientific basis and thus violates Article 14 and similarly by completely cutting out judicial discretion it becomes a law which is not just, fair and reasonable within the meaning of Article 21 read with Article 14. So all the matter are now punishable only under section 302 of IPC.

The J & K High Court held that section 303 of Ranbir Penal Code being in pari-materia with Indian Penal Code’s section 303, mandate of Supreme Court striking down the section 303 IPC will automatically result in striking down the corresponding provisions in RPC (Ranbir Penal Code).

In Indian Harm Reduction Network v. Union of India, 2011 [Criminal Writ Petition No. 1784 OF 2010] , the High Court of Bombay held that the provision for mandatory death sentence under Section 31A of the The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 was in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, and held that the words “shall be sentenced to death” be read as “may be sentenced to death.”

In State of Punjab v. Dalbir Singh, 2012 [Criminal Appeal No.117 OF 2006], the Supreme Court struck down Section 27(3) of the Arms Act, 1959 which made the offence of using prohibited arms, if it results in the death of a person, as punishable with death. It was found that Section 27(3) was in breach of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, as it took away judicial discretion in matters relating to imposition of the death penalty.

Despite mandatory death sentence being declared unconstitutional in the cases mentioned above, it is a matter of grave concern that it continues to be a part of certain central legislation. Section 195A of the IPC, Section 3(1)(g) (i) of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002 and Section 3(2)(i) of The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 still provide for the mandatory death sentence.


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