Bhullar plea: Jurists divided on abolishing death penalty

November 20th, 2011 - 11:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Sushil Kumar New Delhi, Nov 20 (IANS) The Supreme Court’s hearing on Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar’s petition challenging the rejection of his mercy petition by the president after eight years and the issues linked to it have left the legal fraternity divided over capital punishment.

Most jurists want death penalty to stay but want it to be used in exceptional cases. Besides brutal crimes, they want it to be used in terror cases and oppose its abolition.

“AS far as punishment itself is concerned we are not yet ready to abolish death sentence,” said senior apex court lawyer Rupender Singh Sodhi, who as a judge of Delhi High Court awarded death sentence to Santosh Singh for killing 23-year-old law student Priyadarshini Mattoo in 1996.

“This death sentence is necessary in the terrorist infested world of ours,” Sodhi said.

Bhullar was given capital punishment for a 1993 blast in Delhi which killed nine people. He filed his mercy petition Jan 14, 2003 and it was rejected by the president May 25.

He sought commutation of death sentences into life imprisonment on the grounds of inordinate delay in deciding it.

The condemned convict also said he was suffering from mental ailment and could not be hanged on this ground as was the practice in American courts.

During the hearing on his plea, the court decided to give a hearing to all death row convicts in the country and directed the central government to place before it the details of all the mercy petitions pending before the president and the governors.

Sodhi said: “Whereever and when death sentence is to be imposed, it must be in rarest of rare cases and you can’t regulate it and see that it is only in exceptional cases.”

“You don’t have to abolish it but merely rationalize it,” said Sodhi. Decision “on mercy petitions must be taken in a time bond frame”.

“I am totally opposed to death penalty,” said senior apex court lawyer Jaspal Singh, who has challenged Yakub Memon’s death sentence in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts case.

Being a retired judge of Delhi High court, Jaspal Singh said: “It is inhuman and it is totally opposed to modern day international trends in criminology and penology.”

“Award of sentence for the whole life without any right of parole is enough punishment in rarest of rare crimes,” he said.

Opposing the death sentence, criminal lawyer Sushil Kumar said: “I am against death sentence because you can’t reverse it (after being executed).”

Sushil Kumar who successfully argued before the apex court against the award of death sentence to Santosh Singh in the Mattoo case by the high court said that the same evidence was read differently by different judges and they came to divergent conclusions.

The lawyer who appeared in Bhullar’s case before the trial court said that on the same evidence Bhullar was convicted and sentenced but his co-accused was let-off.

On the same evidence before the three-judge apex court bench, two judges upheld his conviction but Justice M.B. Shah acquitted him, Sushil Kumar said.

The question of conclusive evidence was a “matter of perception”. “It is purely a matter of understanding,” he said.

He said that “you have no right to take life legally. There is always a chance of mistake. Judges have a very limited vision. They are not infallible. We all know how confessions are extracted and fabricated (by police)”.

In the 2006 Malegaon blasts case, after five years of incarceration, seven accused have been let off on bail. Perhaps some court could have awarded them death sentence on that very evidence. “It is a very fallible criminal justice delivery system,” said Sushil Kumar.

In this context, he referred to the case of Cornelius Dupree Jr. who was declared innocent Jan 4 by a Texas court in the US. He was convicted in 1980 for alleged robbery and rape case in 1979. He was sentenced in 1980.

It was not before he had already undergone 30 years of the 75-year prison sentence that he was held innocent early this year. He was declared innocent because his DNA did not match with the DNA collected from the spot of the crime.

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