Law panel undecided on death penalty ban

The Law Commission of India, which has gone into the issue of capital punishment, is seen to be favouring a gradual phasing out of death penalty in the country and instead awarding longer terms of imprisonment for heinous crimes.

The Commission, which will soon submit its report on the issue, is likely to recommend a "gradual" abolition of death penalty in all cases, except is select cases, as practiced in countries like the United Kingdom.

The panel headed by Justice A P Shah, which will submit its report to the Supreme Court and law ministry on Monday, is reported to have observed that since the issue of national security was sensitive, the decision of capital punishment for terror convicts must be left to the government.

India is among the few countries that continue to practice death penalty. However, several SC judgments have described the sentencing system as "subjective, arbitrary and judge-centric".

The Law Commission of India, however, issued a press communique on Friday in light of a news item titled, End death penalty, keep it for terror only: Law Commission, in a daily for publication / broadcast, according to which, the panel has proposed that heinous crimes be meted out harsher punishments ranging from 30-60 years as practiced in states like Maharashtra and Jharkhand.

''The Law Commission of India clarifies that this is a case of incorrect reporting and does not reflect the final recommendations of the Commission. The ''draft report'' that has been reported upon is not the final version that is proposed to be submitted to the union minister of law and justice. The Commission further clarifies that a subject like death penalty is extremely sensitive in nature, and reporting on such a subject without clearly understanding the views of the Commission may have an adverse impact on the public. Attributing the final views of the Commission to a ''draft report'', that was intended for private circulation amongst members and meant for discussion, has opened up the issue for unnecessary speculation. The Commission regards the news report as an interference in its functioning,'' the communiqué stated.

Reports quoting sources said the commission's recommendation may ask the government to consider complete moratorium on death penalty on heinous offences where the penalty could be for the entire natural life of a convict.

The commission revised its third draft on Friday and has sent it to the members for final comments.

On the issue of death penalty on terror offences, the commission, after a wider consultation, has come to a conclusion that it is for the legislature to decide whether it wants to retain death penalty for terror offences as it involves sensitive issue of national security.

The government, however, is not in support of complete ban on the death penalty and the final report of the Law Commission may find dissent notes from the two secretaries of the law ministry, the legislative secretary and the law secretary, who are ex-officio members of the panel on death penalty.

The law panel seems to have argued for a more practical approach of "gradually" abolishing death penalty as in the UK. Britain had first reduced the number of crimes which invited death penalty. In 1998, it abolished capital punishment for treason and piracy with violence, and finally, in 1999 the British government formally abolished death penalty for all crimes.

Citing observations from the American courts and recommendations from the Justice J S Verma committee, the law panel is believed to have argued against retaining death penalty even for rarest of rare crimes as it is a "regressive step" and in no way acts as deterrent on serious crimes like rape.

Justice Verma panel, constituted after the brutal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012, had suggested categorizing punishment for sexual offences into two: term punishment and life imprisonment.

The latter had separate provision for enhanced imprisonment.