Scrapping Section 345(5) of CrCP

The matter came before the Supreme Court in October 2017 through a PIL filed by Rishi Malhotra challenging the method of execution of death sentences in India. In response the SC refrained from giving alternative methods to execute a death sentence however directed the centre to file a response in case legislature can think of changing the law so that a convict dies “in peace and not in pain”.

Now the centre filed its response told the Supreme Court that executing a death row convict by hanging was the most viable method as lethal injection “was not workable”.

Provision in law regarding method of death sentence

Section 354(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrCP) provides for the method of execution of death sentence in India. The section says ‘When any person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that he be hanged by the neck till he is dead’.

Arguments put forth by petitioner against the present method

The petitioner calls for scrapping of section 345(5) on the basis of below mentioned reasons:

Violates Fundamental Right

The present method of execution violates the fundamental right under Article 21because right to life also includes right to die with dignity. However the current practice of execution leads to pain and suffering as the process takes more time to declare a person dead as compared to other methods like shooting or lethal injection. Thus, it is inhuman and cruel act.

SC judgments

Supreme Court in Gian Kaur versus State of Punjab held that Article 21 is also available to a death convict. Similarly Justice Bhagwati in Bachan singh case also held the same position.

Law commission report

In its 187th report law commission held that the current method of execution should be replaced. They made an observation that many countries have abolished hanging as a method of execution and switched to other forms like electrocution, shooting or lethal injection.

What is Supreme Court stance for method of execution?

In the case of Deena versus Union of India (1983), SC laid down certain parameters to carry out the death sentence of a prisoner. Below given are the tests which should be satisfied in the method employed:

  • The act of execution should be as quick and simple as possible and free from anything that unnecessarily sharpens the poignancy of the prisoner’s apprehension.
  • The act of the execution should produce immediate unconsciousness passing quickly into the death
  • It should be decent.
  • It should not involve mutilation.

Various other modes of executing death are:

In a “Consultation Paper on Mode of Execution of Death Sentence and Incidental Matters”, the Law Commission of India has discussed the various modes of death sentence through the history of criminal justice delivery system. Some of the methods discussed in the consultation paper are:

  • Lethal injection: Death by lethal injection involves the continuous intravenous injection of a lethal quantity of three different drugs. Death results from anesthetic overdose and respiratory and cardiac arrest while the condemned person is unconscious. It is used by more than 35 countries along with US. There is an evolving trend in the world in favor of this method
  • Electrocution: A convict is strapped to a specially built chair with shaven head and body. A team of executioners pushes the button and a jolt of between 500 and 2000 volts, which lasts for about 30 seconds, is given.
  • Gas chamber: The convict is kept in an airtight gas chamber, which is filled with poisonous gases usually cyanide at a designated time. Death occurs to convicts in six to 18 minutes due to hypoxia, the cutting-off of oxygen to the brain.
  • Firing squad: It is still an execution method in many countries. The convict, blindfolded, is usually tied to a pole with hands or to a chair. A team of executioners is used to fire bullets aiming at his heart.
  • Burning at the stake: It was prevalent in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe. But, it was considered very cruel and barbaric. The last legal execution by burning at stake took place at the end of the Spanishi Inquisition in 1834.
  • Guillotine: Named after the French doctor Joseph Guillotine who proposed this method, guillotine was carried out by decapitation of the convict. It was considered less painful and quick.

Comment

Although the death sentence is awarded in India in rarest of rare cases, thereby, implying that they must have committed the most heinous crimes which shook the conscious of the society. However, right to a dignified death is a basic human right which should not be taken away in any circumstances. So efforts must be made that it should be humane and less painful.

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