By Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN | Dec 12, 2012,

SC appalled by 'lynching-like' death penalty
The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its deep distress and displeasure while censuring a “lynching-inspired” Tamil Nadu trial court for awarding death penalty to a person accused in a dacoity-cum-murder case as a deterrent to eliminate crime from society.

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed its deep distress and displeasure while censuring a “lynching-inspired” Tamil Nadu trial court for awarding death penalty to a person accused in a dacoity-cum-murder case as a deterrent to eliminate crime from society.

“The trial judge, while showing special reasons, referred to laws prevailing in Arab countries like imposing sentence of ‘slashing’, ‘beheading’, taking organ for organ like ‘eye for eye’, ‘tooth for tooth’ and says these are developments of criminal jurisprudence,” said a bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra, surprised by the special knowledge of the trial judge in criminal jurisprudence.

It was another matter that the apex court found no cogent evidence against the accused and acquitted him of all charges in the case, though he had already undergone eight years imprisonment and stayed under the shadow of gallows for some time till the Madras High Court commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.

What riled the apex court bench was the inspiration behind the trial court judge imposing capital punishment on Omprakash, who was allegedly part of a dacoit gang from northern India engaged in a series of crimes in Tamil Nadu. The trial judge had based its decision on his special knowledge about legal sanction by American courts to “lynching” and the “eye-for-eye” and “tooth-for-tooth” punishment institutionalized in some Arab countries.

The trial judge also said he was of the opinion that “the imposition of death sentence under Section 396 of Indian Penal Code is the only weapon in the hands of judiciary under the prevailing law to help eliminate crime”.

Worse, the trial court appeared to give vent to its parochialism by talking about gangs from Haryana travelling 2,000 km to commit crime in “our state (TN)” and justifying imposition of death penalty to “create fear among criminals who commit such crimes”.

First of all, the apex court put the record straight by reminding one and all that in Indian jurisprudence, life sentence was the norm and death sentence an exception. Justice Radhakrishnan, writing the judgment for the bench, said, “The sessions court has gone astray.”

He added, “We are surprised to note the ‘special reasons’ stated by the judge. We fail to see why we import the criminal jurisprudence of America or Arab countries to our legal system. The trial judge speaks of sentence like ‘lynching’ and described that it has attained legal form in America.”

Amazed by the ignorance of the sessions judge, the bench said, “Lynching means kill someone for an alleged offence without legal trial, especially by hanging. The trial judge failed to note that the constitutionality of death sentence came up for consideration before the US Supreme Court inWilliam Henry Furman vs State of Georgia, which involved three persons under death sentence. The court held death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the eighth and tenth amendments.”

The apex court said the trial judge’s inclination to bring in alleged system of lynching to India and to present is as a special reason was “unfortunate and shows lack of exposure to criminal laws of this country”.

“We are also concerned with the question whether the criminals have come from 20 km away or 2,000 km away. The trial judge says that they have come to ‘our state’, forgetting the fact that there is nothing like ‘our state’ or ‘your state’. Such parochial attitude shall not influence or sway judicial mind. The judge also further states, since the accused persons had come from a far away state, about 2,000 km to ‘our state’ for committing robbery and murder, death sentence should be imposed on them. The judge has adopted a very strange reasoning, needs fine tuning and proper training,” the bench said.

Taking exception to the trial judge’s logic that death sentence was the only weapon to eliminate crime, the bench of Justices Radhakrishnan and Misra said, “Judiciary has neither any weapon in its hand not uses it to eliminate crimes. Duty of the judge is to decide cases which come before him in accordance with the Constitution and laws, following the settled judicial precedent.”

It added, “A judge is also part of the society where he lives and also conscious of what is going on in the society. Judge has no weapon or sword. Judge’s greatest strength is the trust and confidence of the people, whom he serves. We may point out that clear reasoning and analysis are the basic requirements in a judicial decision.”

The bench asked the National Judicial Academy and State Judicial Academies to educate judicial officers in this regard.

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