Supreme Court of India
Supreme Court of India

Roll back reward policy for prosecutors successfully arguing for death, SC to MP

New Delhi, May 19, 2022

The Supreme Court on Thursday orally told the Madhya Pradesh government to roll back its policy giving incentives to public prosecutors for successfully arguing death penalty cases in courts.

A bench, headed by Justice U.U. Lalit, was told that a system exists in Madhya Pradesh, where public prosecutors were rewarded with a right of posting to a place of choice, if they argued successfully death penalty cases.

The bench, also comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and Sudhanshu Dhulia, said: "This is not done."

It noted documents brought on record to establish that the state government was seeking to incentivise public prosecutors to secure capital punishment, observing that such a system would undermine the prosecutorial independence, fair trial, and also judicial independence.

The bench noted that the government intends to convey to the public prosecutors that by adopting any mode, they should achieve it, and asked the state government counsel to take a decision to roll back the policy or a court's judgment to this effect would follow.

Hearing a suo motu case on developing guidelines to be followed in cases where maximum sentence provided for the offence is death penalty, the top court noted that mitigating circumstances favouring the accused are only dealt with at the time of sentencing. It also considered laying down the guidelines and the stage of trial, at which the study on mitigating circumstances, against the award of the death penalty can come into the picture.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, who is assisting the top court, said that the task to consider mitigating circumstances against death sentence should be handled by high courts, and pointed out that high courts approve the capital punishment.

At this, the bench questioned whether this would not disallow the trial court judge from examining the mitigating circumstances favouring the accused?

It said this aspect requires in-depth examination and scheduled the matter for further hearing in July.

The top court registered the case to examine how the courts, which deal with death sentence matters, can develop a comprehensive analysis on the nature of the crime and the accused. It had also pointed at the mitigating circumstances, which the concerned court can look into, while deciding whether a death sentence should be awarded or not.

The top court initiated the process after an application was filed by anti-death penalty body, Project 39A of National Law University, Delhi, complaining about alleged inadequacies in the existing system of preparation of reports by the probation officers and other officials from the jail administration.


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