Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab: ‘Rarest of Rarest Doctine’
This is a landmark case (AIR 1980 SC 898, 1980) decided by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court consisting of, Justice Y.C. Chandrachud, Justice A. Gupta, Justice N. Untwalia, Justice P.N Bhagwati, and Justice R. Sarkaria. The Supreme Court announced significant limitations on the death penalty in this case by establishing the “rarest of the rare” doctrine.
A genuine and abiding concern for the dignity of human life presupposes resistance to taking a life through the instrumentality of law,” the Supreme Court stated. That should be done only in the rarest or most rare cases where the alternative opinion is unquestionably foreclosed.”
Facts of the Case:
Bachan Singh, the appellant, murdered her wife, and he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. After serving his prison sentence (i.e., after his release), the appellant lived with his cousin Hukam Singh and his family. Following that, Bachan Singh was charged, convicted, and sentenced to death for the murders of Desa, Durga, and Veeran, a Sessions Judge in the case, under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The Punjab High Court upheld the sessions court’s death sentence and denied his appeal. Bachan Singh then petitioned the Supreme Court, which granted him Special Leave. The appeal raised the question of whether Bachan Singh’s case constituted “special reasons” for imposing the death penalty, as required.
- Whether the death penalty provided for murder in Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code is unconstitutional?
- If the answer to the above question is negative, whether the sentencing procedure mentioned in Section, 354(3) of the CrPC, 1973 is unconstitutional on the ground that it gives unfettered power to Courts, allowing the death sentence to be capriciously imposed on a person found guilty of murder punishable under IPC with death or with imprisonment for life?
- Whether the facts found by the lower courts would be considered “special reason” for awarding the death penalty as is required under section 354(3) Cr. P.C?
The Supreme Court’s decision, in this case, is regarded as one of the landmark decisions on the issue of the death penalty. When a death sentence is imposed on someone, it captures the attention of the entire nation. In this case, too, the entire nation was waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision, which stated in its majority decision that Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code are constitutionally valid. The doctrine of the “rarest of rare cases” for imposing the death penalty is still in use today.
- Except in the gravest cases of extreme culpability, there is no need to opt for the sentence of death penalty.
- Before providing the sentence of the death penalty, the judge should consider the circumstances of the crime along with the circumstances of the offender.
- It was stated by the bench that “life imprisonment is the rule, whereas death sentence is the exception.” Therefore, we can say that, after looking at the circumstances of the case, the death penalty should be given only in those cases, where even the penalty of life imprisonment seems inadequate
- Before exercising the option, a balance sheet containing aggravating and mitigating conditions must be created, with the mitigating circumstances receiving full weightage and a fair balance struck between the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
In his dissenting opinion, Bhagwati, J. stated that the imposition of the death penalty as an alternative to life imprisonment in Section 302 of the IPC is ultra vires and illegal because it violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. He took this stance because he believes the contested provision lacks legislative guidance on when an accused’s life can be taken by imposing a death sentence.
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JUDGMENT REVIEWED BY DIVYA SHREE GN