There is no uniform understanding of the requirement of the rarest of rare doctrine in death penalty cases and former judges have varied notions on it, a report published by the National Law University said. The Centre on the Death Penalty at NLU today released a report featuring an opinion study with 60 former Supreme Court judges on the criminal justice system and the death penalty in India. “For a significant number of judges, the rarest of the rare was based on categories or description of offences alone and had little to do with judicial test requiring that the alternative of life imprisonment be ‘unquestionably foreclosed’,” the report said. The study records an acknowledgement and concern among former Supreme Court judges about the crisis in India’s criminal justice system on account of widespread prevalence of torture, fabrication of evidence, abysmal quality of legal aid and wrongful convictions. The comprehensive report was released after consulting 60 former judges who had adjudicated 208 death penalty cases between them at different points during the period 1975-2016.
“Despite rarest of rare doctrine in death penalty as laid down by the Supreme Court in the Bachan Singh case, the report shows that there existed no uniform understanding of the requirements of rarest of rare doctrine,” senior advocate Rebecca John said during the panel discussion after the release of the report. She said death penalty cases must have compulsory evidentiary hearing. In the report, 38 judges have acknowledged that torture of prisoner or undertrials was rampant and almost 43 judges have agreed that wrongful convictions are a harsh reality of the Indian criminal justice system.
Anuj Bhuwania from Ambedkar University Delhi and the director of the Centre Anup Surendranath have also participated in the discussion on the various aspects of the report.