AGENCIES,  New Delhi, Mon Oct 01 2012

The Law Commission has recommended that honour killings be made a non-bailable offence and advocated a seven-year jail term for caste panchayat members found guilty of persecuting legally married couples in the name of honour.

In its latest report, the Commission headed by Justice P V Reddi also asked the government to explore the possibility of a new law to prohibit unlawful caste assemblies which take decisions to condemn marriages not prohibited by law.

“No person or any group shall assemble to condemn any marriage not prohibited by law, on the basis that it dishonoured the caste or community,” the report stated.

“These offending acts imperilling the liberty of young persons marrying or intending to marry according to their wishes are being perpetrated in certain parts of the country and need to be effectively checked,” Justice Reddi wrote to Law Minister Salman Khurshid in the report before he demitted office recently.

The Commission, however, has rejected the government’s suggestion of defining honour killing as a specific offence in the Indian Penal Code (Section 300), stating that the existing provisions were sufficient.

It has also turned down the government’s view that onus of proving innocence in honour killings cases must be shifted on the accused.

Justifying the need for a separate law to deal with unlawful assemblies which lead to honour killings, the panel has pointed out that the existing criminal law lacks direct application to illegal acts of such assemblies.

“The caste councils or panchayats popularly called ‘khaps’ try to adopt the chosen course of moral vigilantism and this needs to be immediately checked,” the Commission stated.

The new law proposed by the Commission has defined three separate offences, with a maximum jail term of seven years for those found guilty of criminally intimidating married couples.

It has disagreed with the Supreme Court’s suggestion that death sentence be applied to all honour killing cases.

“With great respect, we are constrained to say that such a blanket direction given by the Supreme Court making death sentence a rule in ‘honour killings’ cases, makes a departure from the principles firmly entrenched in our criminal jurisprudence by virtue of a series of decisions rendered by larger Benches of Supreme Court,” the Commission said.

It said that it is settled law that aggravating and mitigating circumstances should be weighed and it is only in very exceptional and rare cases, death sentence should be imposed.

“Death sentence, in other words, is a last resort. Further, where there is more than one accused, the degree of participation and culpability may vary,” it added.