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Annual Death Penalty Report, 2023 |

Annual Death Penalty Report, 2023

Context

∙ According to the Annual Death Penalty Report 2023, appellate Courts in India – SC and all the HCs together – confirmed only one death sentence in 2023 while the rest were either commuted or saw the prisoners acquitted altogether.

∙ The Annual Death Penalty Report, 2023, prepared by Project 39A, a criminal justice programme linked with the National Law University, Delhi.

Death Penalty

∙ The death penalty is the state-sanctioned execution of a person as a punishment for a crime. 

∙ It is the highest degree of punishment that can be awarded to an individual under a specified penal law in force. 

∙ The legal process for imposing the death penalty in India involves a trial court issuing a death sentence, which can then be appealed in higher courts, including the High Court and the Supreme Court of India. 

∙ The President of India has the power to grant pardons or commute sentences.

Major findings of the Report

∙ As per the report, there has been a 45.71% increase in the population of inmates sent to death row since 2015.

Annual Death Penalty Report, 2023 |

ο Uttar Pradesh had the largest death row population at 119 prisoners.

∙ According to the report, in 2023, trial courts awarded death sentences to 120 prisoners.

∙ Appellate Courts (Supreme Court and all the High Courts together ) confirmed only one death sentence in 2023 while the rest were either commuted or saw the prisoners acquitted altogether.

∙ The total number of death sentences awarded (in trial courts) last year had seen a significant drop — from 167 in 2022 to 120 in 2023.

∙ More than half (55%) of these 120 were in homicidal rape cases.

∙ The report said that in 2023, the HCs also disposed of fewer cases involving death sentences compared to 2022 (68 cases involving 101 prisoners), meaning the number of prisoners on death row went up.

Concerns

∙ Acquittal and remand by the higher Courts in 2023 indicate significant concerns with the quality of police investigations and appreciation of evidence by lower courts in cases.

∙ The trial courts imposed death sentences in 86.96% of its cases in the absence of any information relating to the accused, despite the Supreme Court’s mandate in Manoj v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2022).

Arguments in favor of Death Penalty

∙ Arguments in favor of Death Penalty: In the 35th Report of Law Commission of India (1962), the Law Commission favored retaining the death penalty in the Indian Judicial System.

∙ Acting as a deterrent: Supporters argue that the fear of facing capital punishment may deter individuals from committing heinous crimes such as murder or terrorism.

∙ Retribution and Justice: Advocates believe that the death penalty provides a form of retribution for the victims and their families.

∙ Permanent Incapacitation: Advocates suggest that the death penalty ensures that individuals who have committed heinous crimes will never be able to harm society again.

∙ Moral Condemnation: The death penalty reflects society’s moral condemnation of certain acts and reinforces the sanctity of human life by holding individuals accountable for their actions.

Arguments against Death Penalty

∙ Against the global trend: According to the Amnesty Report, at the end of 2021 more than two thirds of the world’s countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

∙ The poor are most affected: The numbers of the uneducated and the illiterate sentenced to death outweigh those who are educated and literate.

∙ 74.1% of individuals on death row in India come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

∙ Life Imprisonment as an Alternative: Some argue that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is a viable alternative to the death penalty, ensuring public safety without the irreversible consequences of execution.

∙ Risk of Wrongful Execution: Critics argue that no justice system is infallible, and the risk of executing an innocent person exists.

∙ Cases of wrongful convictions, sometimes based on flawed evidence or legal errors, can lead to irreversible consequences.

∙ Psychological Effects: Critics raise concerns about the psychological impact on those involved in the execution process, including prison staff and witnesses, as well as the mental health of the condemned individual.

∙ Global Abolition Trend: There is a global trend toward the abolition of the death penalty, with an increasing number of countries choosing to eliminate or suspend capital punishment.

∙ In Ghana, the Parliament passed a Bill in 2023 to abolish the death penalty for ordinary crimes.

Way Forward

∙ The death penalty issue in India requires a balanced and inclusive approach that takes into account diverse perspectives, respects human dignity, and promotes the principles of fairness and justice.

∙ There is a need to facilitate collaboration among government agencies, civil society organizations, legal experts, and other stakeholders to explore alternative approaches to addressing serious crimes while upholding human rights.

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