Death Sentence And Criminal Justice In Human Rights Perspective (By Dr.S.Krishnan & Ms. Priya Rathore)

Death as a penalty has plagued human mind perennially. Death sentence must fulfil the conditions for protection of human rights in Criminal Justice Administration in India. In European countries the agitation against capital punishment started with criminologists Jeremy Bentham and J.S. Mill’s writings for due punishment; who maintained that punishment must be just, adequate, fair, reasonable and proportionate to the crime to achieve the goal and should never be excessive. This is also a problem in Indian socio-legal system. Delay in execution is not infrequent which is a violation of accused’s basic human rights including right to live with dignity which is enshrined under article 21 of the Indian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The accused in death sentence who is waiting for execution of punishment is living with terror of death every moment he is waiting for. Delay in execution is another punishment on him which is inhuman, degrading and must not be allowed in any civilised society.
Execution of Dhananjay Chatterjee[1] in 2004, after fourteen years in death cell and thereafter in the year 2006 Md. Afzal’s instance of capital punishment again gave new impetus to the debate between abolitionists and retentionists concerning speedy justice, fair trial, protection of human rights of the persons under death sentence, their human dignity as well as the victimological perspective to maintain law and order in society.  
In India the issue of death sentence is hotly debated and has attracted the attention of general public as well as government and non-governmental organisations. Though India is an active member of the United Nations and has signed and ratified most of the International Instruments on human rights, capital punishment still remains in our statute book. According to our judiciary it must be imposed in exceptional cases i.e. in rarest of rare cases with special reasons. Article 72 of the Indian constitution confers on the President power to grant pardons etc. and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain circumstances.
In the words of P.N. Bhagwati, J. in Bachan Singh v. state of Punjab[2]  “the judges have been awarding death penalty according to their own scale of values and social philosophy and it is not possible to discern any consistent approach to the problem in the judicial decisions”. Therefore, whether the sentence will be for death or for life imprisonment depends, in a large measure, on the court or composition of bench of the court. We have seen earlier about execution and commutation of death sentences into life imprisonment, there are several judgments which show that there are no fix principles to determine delay and other factors in the similar cases. Even in Dhananjay Chatterjee’s case[3] there was fourteen years’ delay in execution of death sentence but it was not commuted to life imprisonment although in some earlier cases two years, two and half years, three years and nine years delay in execution was treated as violation of human rights and fair procedure and their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. Is this not a violation of articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution which enshrine fundamental and sacrosanct rights of human beings?
Due to arbitrary and discriminatory decisions and unjust procedures, basic rights of accused are violated in inhuman and brutal manner which are not only contrary to the National Human Rights principles envisaged in the Constitution but also contrary to the Universal Human Rights ethos. In order to serve as a just and effective mechanism for administration of justice to all sections of society, law should be nourished by and nurtured in human rights. There is nothing to prove the fact that extreme measure of death sentence reduces crime rates in contemporary society; rather death sentence has failed as a deterrent. Life imprisonment is enough for deterrence as well as for mental and moral metamorphosis of a human being.