Holding that the age of the accused and the possibility of his reformation were determining factors, the Supreme Court has redefined the ‘rarest of rare’ cases and awarded 30-year imprisonment to two accused who murdered four persons in August 2000.

Giving this ruling, a Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said, “Age, definitely, is a factor which cannot be ignored, though not determinative factor in all situations. The probability that the accused persons could be reformed and rehabilitated is also a factor to be borne in mind. To award death sentence, the aggravating circumstances [crime test] have to be fully satisfied and there should be no mitigating circumstance [criminal test] favouring the accused. Even when both the tests are satisfied, the court has to finally apply the Rarest of Rare Cases test (R-R test), which depends on the perception of society and not “judge-centric,” that is whether society will approve the awarding of death sentence to certain types of crime or not.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Radhakrishnan said, “While applying this test, the court has to look into a variety of factors like society’s abhorrence, extreme indignation and antipathy to certain types of crimes like rape and murder of minor girls, especially intellectually challenged minor girls, minor girls with physical disability, old and infirm women with disabilities etc. Examples are only illustrative and not exhaustive. Courts award death sentence because the situation demands it, due to Constitutional compulsion, reflected by the will of the people, and not judge-centric.”

The Bench said: “This court, in the ‘Sangeet’ case, noticed that the circumstances referred to in the ‘Bachan Singh’ case appear to have taken the back seat in the sentencing process and took the view that a balancing test is not the correct test in deciding whether capital punishment be awarded or not. We may, in this case, go a little further and decide what will be the test to apply in a case where death sentence is proposed.

“We are of the view that the extreme sentence of capital punishment is not warranted to appellants Gurvail Singh and Satnam Singh. Due to the fact that the appellants are instrumental in the death of four persons and the nature of injuries they have inflicted, in front of Prosecution Witness 1, whose son, daughter-in-law and two grand children were murdered, we are of the view that the appellants deserve no sympathy. Considering the totality of facts and circumstances of this case… while awarding life imprisonment to the appellants, we hold that they must serve a minimum of 30 years in jail without remission.”

In the instant case, a trial court in Punjab awarded death sentence which was confirmed by the Punjab and Haryana High Courts. Disposing of the appeals, the Bench said, “The sentence awarded by the trial court and confirmed by the High Court is modified. Under such circumstance, we modify the sentence from death to life imprisonment for 30 years.”

  • “Courts award capital punishment when the situation demands it”

  • “The extreme sentence is not warranted in this case”

  • Court says appellants deserve no sympathy but modifies death sentence