- Date: 9 May, 1980
- Equivalent citations: AIR 1980 SC 898, 1980 CriLJ 636, 1982 (1) SCALE 713, (1980) 2 SCC 684, 1983 1 SCR 145
- Bench: Y Chandrachud, A Gupta, N Untwalia, P Bhagwati, R Sarkaria
Facts of the Case:
Bachan Singh was tried and convicted and sentenced to death under Section 302, Indian Penal Code which reads as: “Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
He was sentenced to death for the murders of Desa Singh, Durga Bai and Veeran Bai by the Sessions Judge. The High Court confirmed his death sentence and dismissed his appeal.
Case went to Supreme Court.
- Whether death penalty provided for the offence of murder in Section 302, Penal Code is unconstitutional?
- Whether the sentencing procedure provided in Section 354(3) of the CrPC, 1973 (Act 2 of 1974) is unconstitutional on the ground that it invests the Court with unguided discretion?
• The Law Commission of India submitted its 35th Report in 1967 to the government.
Having regard, however, to the conditions in India, to the variability of the social up-bringing of its inhabitants, to the disparity within the level of morality and education within the country, to the vastness of its area, to diversity of its population and to the paramount need for maintaining law and order within the country at this juncture, India cannot risk the experiment of abolition of execution.
• Moreover capital punishment does act as a deterrent. Basically every human being dreads death. For the aim of testing the constitutionality of the impugned provision on execution in Section 302, India legal code on the bottom of reasonableness within the light of Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, it was observed by the Court not to express any categorical opinion, one way or the other, as to which of these two antithetical views, held by the Abolitionists and Retentionists, is correct. It is sufficient to mention that the actual fact that persons of reason, learning and lightweight are rationally and deeply divided in their opinion on this issue, is a ground among others, for rejecting the petitioner’s argument that retention of execution within the impugned provision, is completely barren of reason and purpose.
• It was further observed if the framers of the Indian Constitution were fully aware about the existence of death penalty as punishment for murder, under the Indian legal code, if the 35th Report and subsequent Reports of the Law Commission suggesting retention of execution, and recommending revision of the Criminal Procedure Code and therefore the insertion of the new Sections 235(2) and 354(3) therein Code providing for pre-sentence hearing and sentencing procedure on conviction for murder and other capital offences were before the Parliament and presumably considered by it when in 1972-1973 it took up revision of the Code of 1898 and replaced it by the CrPC, 1973, it's impossible to carry that the supply of death penalty as an alternate punishment for murder, in Section 302, Indian legal code is unreasonable and not within the public interest. Therefore, the Court concluded that the impugned provision in Section 302, violates neither the letter nor the ethos of Article 19 and 21.
• Section 354(3) which mandates the Court convicting an individual for an offence punishable with death or, within the alternative with imprisonment for all times or imprisonment for a term of years, to not impose the sentence of death thereon person unless there are "special reasons" to be recorded-for such sentence.
• The expression "special reasons" within the context of this provision, obviously means "exceptional reasons" founded on the exceptionally grave circumstances of the actual case concerning the crime as well as the criminal. Thus, the legislative policy is clear on the on the face of Section 354(3) is that on conviction for murder and other capital offences punishable in the alternative with death under the legal code , the acute penalty should be imposed only in extreme cases.
• It is unnecessary nor is it possible to make a catalogue of the special reasons which may justify the passing of the death sentence in a case.It was also observed that this legislative policy discernible from Section 235(2) read with Section 354(3) is that in fixing the degree of punishment or making the choice of sentence for various offences, including one under Section 302, legal code , the Court shouldn't confine its consideration principally or merely to the circumstances connected with the particular crime, but also give due consideration to the circumstances of the criminal. While considering the question of sentence to be imposed for the offence of murder under Section 302 legal code, the court must have reference to every relevant circumstance relating to the crime as well as the criminal.
• If the court finds, but not otherwise, that the offence is of an exceptionally depraved and heinous character and constitutes, on account of its design and therefore the manner of its execution, a source of grave danger to the society at large, the court may impose the death sentence. Cognizant of the past experience of the administration of death penalty in India, Parliament, in its wisdom, thought it best and safe to leave the imposition of this gravest punishment in gravest cases of murder, to the judicial discretion of the courts which are manned by persons of reason, experience and standing within the profession.
• The exercise of this sentencing discretion can't be said to be untrammelled and unguided. It is exercised judicially in accordance with well-recognised principles crystalised by judicial decisions, directed along the broad contours of legislative policy towards the signposts enacted in Section 354(3). The Court observed that the standardisation or sentencing discretion is a policy matter which belongs to the sphere of legislation. And the judiciary will not interfere with it There are some of the aggravating circumstances which, in the absence of any mitigating circumstance, have been regarded as an indication for imposition of the extreme like
• Pre-planned, calculated, cold-blooded murder
• The weapons used and therefore the manner of their use, the horrendous features of the crime and hapless, helpless state of the victim.
• The Court further observed that what is the relative weight to be given to the aggravating and mitigating factors depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular case. More often than not, these two aspects are so intertwined that it's difficult to offer a separate treatment to every of them during a sense, to kill is to be cruel and, therefore, all murders are cruel. But such cruelty may vary in its degree of culpability (responsibility for a fault or wrong). And it is only when the culpability assumes the proportion of extreme depravity that "special reasons" can legitimately be said to exist.