Rarest of Rare Cases: Explained

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Published On: 3rd May, 2024

Authored By: Somitra Vardhan Dubey
DNLU (Dharmashashtra National Law University)

The Supreme Court’s five-judge bench, which included Justices Y.C. Chandrachud, A. Gupta, N. Untwalia, P.N. Bhagwati, and R. Sarkaria, decided this historic case (AIR 1980 SC 898, 1980). In this case, the Supreme Court established the “rarest of the rare” concept, which put major restrictions on the death penalty.

According to the Supreme Court, “a sincere and enduring concern for the inherent worth of human life necessitates resistance to killing a life through the effectiveness of law.” Just in the rarest of circumstances, when the opposite viewpoint is clearly foreclosed, could that be done.

The appellant, Bachan Singh, was found guilty of killing her wife and given a life sentence. Following his release from prison, the appellant resided with the cousin Hukam Singh & his family. After that, Bachan Singh had been accused of killing Desa, Durga, & Veeran, the Sessions Judge at the case, in accordance with Section 302 in the Indian Penal Code. He was found guilty and given the death penalty. The Punjab High Court rejected his appeal and maintained the death sentence imposed by the sessions court. The Supreme Court then received a plea from Bachan Singh, and it granted him Special Leave. The appeal posed the issue of whether Bachan Singh’s circumstances qualified as a “special reason” for the mandatory imposition of the death penalty.

Concerns Voiced:

Is it unconstitutional to execute someone for murder under Section 302 in the Indian Penal Code?

If the answer to the previous question is no, is the sentencing process outlined in Section 354.3 of the CrPC, 1973 unconstitutional because it grants judges unrestricted authority and permits the death penalty to be arbitrarily implemented on a person found liable of murder, a crime for which the maximum penalty under the Indian Penal Code is life imprisonment or death?

Would the facts discovered by the subordinate courts be deemed a “special reason” to impose the death punishment as stipulated by section 354(3) Cr. P.C.?

Review of Judgment:

In this instance, the Supreme Court’s ruling is recognized as one of the seminal rulings regarding the death penalty. The entire country pays attention when someone is given the death penalty. The entire country awaited the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case as well, which declared in its majority ruling that Sections 354(3) in the Code of Criminal Procedure and 302 in the Indian Penal Code are legally permissible. The death sentence is being applied today under the theory of the “rarest of rare cases.”

The death penalty is not necessary, unless there are really serious cases of responsibility.

Prior to imposing the death penalty sentence

The particulars of the crime and the criminal should be taken into account by the judge prior to imposing the death penalty.

“Life sentence is the rule, but death sentence remains the exception,” the bench declared. Thus, considering the facts of the case, we might conclude that the death penalty ought to be used only in situations where even a life sentence seems insufficient.

A balance sheet with aggravating and mitigating factors must be made prior to exercising the choice, with the circumstances that mitigate being given full weight and the aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances being fairly balanced.

Bhagwati, J. said in his dissenting view that it is ultra vires and unlawful to impose the death penalty in Section 302 of the IPC as a substitute for life imprisonment since it breaches Articles 14 as well as 21 of the Constitution. His position stems from his belief that the challenged provision does not provide legislative direction regarding the circumstances under which an accused person’s life may be taken by applying a death sentence.

It still is revered and is a landmark judgment no matter the dissent.

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