Death sentence for rape-murder in 2019 highest in 4 years: NLU report

17 out of 26 cases of capital punishment awarded by HCs related to sexual offences

January 18, 2020 12:15 am | Updated 03:17 am IST - New Delhi

Higher number of death sentences awarded in India in recent years relate to cases of sexual offences, a report by National Law University (NLU), Delhi, revealed.

The fourth edition of ‘The Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics’ published by Project 39A of NLU-Delhi said the number of death sentences awarded for murders involving sexual offences in 2019 was at the highest in four years.

Cases and convictions

The trial courts in India imposed 102 death sentences in 2019, a significant drop from 162 death sentences in 2018. However, the percentage of sexual offences in these cases increased from 41.35 (67 out of 162) in 2018 to 52.94 in 2019 (54 out of 102 sentences). This trend was also seen at the High Courts where 65.38% (17 out of 26) cases of confirmations of death sentences involved sexual offences along with murder, the highest in four years.

The Supreme Court in 2019 dealt with 27 capital punishment cases, highest number since 2001, primarily under former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s tenure.

The report said that this can be linked to the priority given to such cases by Chief Justice Gogoi. The Supreme Court last year confirmed the death penalty of seven cases out of which four were of murder involving sexual offences. It commuted a total of 17 cases of death penalty.

The report stated that there were widespread discussions on capital punishment in 2019 involving sexual offences against women and children.

POCSO Act amendment

It observed that the amendment to The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, introducing stringent mandatory minimum punishments and death penalty for penetrative sexual assault on children was a major development in this direction.

Additionally, in response to the public outcry following a brutal gang-rape and murder in Hyderabad, the Andhra Pradesh amended the Indian Penal Code to introduce the death penalty for rape.

“National debates and legislative trends, as well as data on administration of death penalty in this report, indicate that the issue of sexual violence against women and children is now at the heart of the debate on capital punishment in India,” the report said.

It added that the “rampancy and impunity of sexual violence and the fractures within the criminal justice system perpetuating this cycle has led to a public outcry for harsher punishments”.

There was also a corresponding increase in death warrants issued last year, six against one in 2018, with all warrants eventually stayed by the courts, the report stated.

“All warrants that were issued indicate a lack of compliance with the guidelines issued in the case of Shabnam vs. Union of India, which requires that a warrant for execution not be issued until reasonable time for exhausting all remedies under the law has lapsed and specifies procedures to be followed in issuing such warrant,” Project 39A report stated.

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