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Indian Case Summary

Bachan Singh vs State Of Punjab on 9 May, 1980 – Case Summary

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In the case of Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab on 9 May, 1980, the Supreme Court of India was confronted with a significant constitutional question concerning the validity of the death penalty for murder as provided in Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and the sentencing procedure outlined in Sub-section (3) of Section 354 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973.

Facts of the Case

Bachan Singh, the appellant in Criminal Appeal No. 273 of 1979, was convicted and sentenced to death under Section 302, IPC for the murders of Desa Singh, Durga Bai, and Veeran Bai by the Sessions Judge. The High Court confirmed his death sentence and dismissed his appeal. The appeal by special leave came up for hearing before a Bench of the Supreme Court, where the question for consideration was whether the facts found by the lower courts would constitute “special reasons” for awarding the death sentence as required under Section 354(3) of the CrPC 1973.

Issues Raised

The appellant’s counsel argued that the lower courts were not competent to impose the death penalty on the appellant. The contention was that neither the circumstance that the appellant was previously convicted for murder and committed these murders after he had served out the life sentence in the earlier case, nor the fact that these three murders were extremely heinous and inhuman, constitutes a “special reason” for imposing the death sentence within the meaning of Section 354(3) of the CrPC 1973.

Court’s Observations

The court observed that the majority view in Rajendra Prasad, taken by V.R. Krishna Iyer, J., who spoke for himself and D.A. Desai, J., was contrary to the judgment of the Constitution Bench in Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh. The court noted several inconsistencies between the two judgments, particularly in relation to the interpretation of the sentencing criteria and the constitutional permissibility of the death penalty.

The court also noted that the Constitution Bench in Jagmohan’s case held that the impossibility of laying down standards in the matter of sentencing is at the core of criminal law as administered in India, which invests the judges with a very wide discretion in the matter of fixing the degree of punishment.

The court further observed that several persons convicted of murders and sentenced to death had filed writ petitions under Article 32 of the Constitution directly challenging the constitutional validity of the death penalty provided in Section 302 of the IPC for the offence of murder, and the sentencing procedure provided in Section 354(3) of the CrPC, 1974.

The court then proceeded to hear the arguments of the counsel for the parties at length, and to deal afresh with the constitutional questions concerning the death penalty raised in these writ petitions.

Conclusion

The court concluded that the principal questions to be considered in this case were whether the death penalty provided for the offence of murder in Section 302, Penal Code is unconstitutional, and if not, whether the sentencing procedure provided in Section 354(3) of the CrPC, 1973 is unconstitutional on the ground that it invests the court with unguided and untrammelled discretion and allows the death sentence to be arbitrarily or freakishly imposed on a person found guilty of murder or any other capital offence punishable under the IPC with death or, in the alternative, with imprisonment for life. The court decided to first take up the question relating to the constitutional validity of Section 302, Penal Code.