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Case Summary of Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab, 1980

case brief, case summary

Facts: 

Bachan Singh, the appellant, her wife was murdered and he was found guilty and sentenced to life in jail. The appellant was living with his cousin Hukam Singh and his family after serving his jail sentence (i.e., after his release).

Hukam Singh’s wife and kid were not pleased with the appellant’s presence in their home. Vidya Bai was awakened by an alarm a few days prior to this incidence in the middle of the night and witnessed the appellant delivering an axe strike on her sister’s (Bean Bai) face.

The appellant Vidya Bai was struck in the face and ear with an axe while making an attempt to stop her. She was rendered unconscious as a result of the axe hit to her face and ear. Suddenly, Diwan Singh, who had been sleeping at a distance, was awakened by the shriek and sounded an alert to wake Gulab Singh, who had also been sleeping at a distance.

When they noticed an appellant with an axe in Desa bai’s face, they both acted quickly to stop him. Following their progress towards him, the appellant abandoned the axe and fled. Diwan Singh and Gulab Singh gave chase after him, but were unsuccessful in apprehending him.

Following that, Bachan Singh was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to death under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for the murders of Desa, Durga, and Veeran by a Sessions Judge in the case. Punjab High Court affirmed his death sentence delivered by the sessions court and denied his appeal.

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Bachan Singh then filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, which was granted Special Leave. The question raised in the appeal if Bachan Singh’s case constituted “special reasons” for awarding him the death penalty, as required by Section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

Issues:

  • Is Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, constitutes provisions for the death punishment for the crime of murder, unconstitutional or constitutional?
  • If it’s possible that the facts discovered by the lower courts would be regarded a “special basis” for imposing the capital punishment, as required under Section 354(3) of CrPC?

Court Observation and Judgement:

Supreme Court dismissed the appellant’s claim that imposing the death penalty constituted a violation of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, as presented by the appellant. According to the court, the application of the directness test as well as the pith and substance test, as well as the consideration of several precedents, led to the determination that imposition of the death penalty did not violate Article 19.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the subject of a criminal law, according to this court, both in form and substance (1). Furthermore, it was determined that the deprivation of freedom that follows an order of conviction and sentence is not a direct and inevitably resulting consequence of the criminal law, but rather is only an incidental consequence of the order of conviction and sentence itself.

The Supreme Court clearly rejected the objections to the legality of Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code. The court went on to state that the six essential rights granted under Section 19(1) are not universal rights.

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These rights are subject to intrinsic restrictions arising from the mutual commitment of one person of a civil society to utilise his rights in such a way as not to violate or harm the rights of another citizen of the same civil society. 

Apart from that, the court made it abundantly plain that article 19 clauses (2) to (6) have been expressly subjected to the capacity of the state to put legitimate restrictions on the practise of citizens’ rights.

Additionally, there are various other signs in the constitution which demonstrate that the constitution is well aware of the presence of the death penalty for murder and certain other crimes under the Indian Penal Code 1860.

A “Special reason” is defined in Section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code as “special reasons” that are founded on “exceptionally grave circumstances” in which the death sentence or alternative punishment of life imprisonment for life is imposed.

When it comes to imposing the death penalty, the Supreme Court has established the idea of “the rarest of the rare circumstances.” Life imprisonment is the rule rather than the exception for those convicted of murder, with the death penalty being the exception.

Held: 

By 4:3 majority decision, the Supreme Court confirmed its earlier ruling and declared that the availability of the death sentence as an alternative punishment for murder under Section 302 is permissible so long as it is neither irrational nor contrary to the public’s interest.

It does not contradict either the letter or the spirit of Article 19 of the Indian constitution. It is illegal. It satisfies all constitutional requirements. The exercise of discretion under section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 should only be done in unusual and grave circumstances, and the imposition of a death sentence should only be done in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

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