Calcutta HC: Death penalty only for criminals beyond reform


KOLKATA: The death penalty should only be pronounced in the “rarest of rare cases” when rehabilitation and reformation of the convict are ruled out, the Calcutta high court said Monday while upholding a 2007 trial court judgment sentencing four men to life imprisonment for the rape and murder of a minor girl. The HC said the gravity and heinousness of the crime alone cannot be the criteria for capital punishment.
The case dates back to January 2004 when four men were arrested and charged with raping and murdering a minor at an abandoned steel factory in the Taratala neighbourhood of Kolkata. The victim’s body was discovered in the factory, showing evidence of rape by multiple perpetrators.
The prosecution also revealed that the victim’s father had been assaulted by one of the convicts two months before the girl went missing because he refused to give him money to buy liquor.
The four were subsequently convicted by a trial court in 2007. During an appeal that same year, a suo motu rule was issued to elevate the sentence from life imprisonment to death penalty.
After two decades, HC judges Joymalya Bagchi and Gaurang Kanth deliberated on the matter. In its judgment, the HC emphasised the need to balance mitigating circumstances with aggravating circumstances to determine whether a case qualifies as rarest of rare.
The court said: “Mere reference to gravity or heinousness is not enough. The court, prior to imposing the death penalty, must satisfy its conscience that there is no possibility of rehabilitation and reformation of the convict, and he would remain a continuing threat to society.”
In light of the commendable prison behaviour by the convicts, the court indicated that they cannot be regarded as people who are beyond the prospect of rehabilitation and reformation. The HC also highlighted that judges should not be “bloodthirsty” and that life imprisonment is the rule, while the death penalty is an exception.

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