Hanging least painless capital sentence? SC wants experts’ advice

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Hanging least painless capital sentence? SC wants experts’ advice

Wednesday, 22 March 2023 | Pioneer News Service | New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Tuesday suggested the formation of an expert committee to examine whether death by hanging is the most suitable and painless method to implement the death penalty.

The bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha also asked Attorney General R Venkataramani to furnish details on whether there is any data or study undertaken regarding the impact and pain caused during death by hanging and whether it is the most suitable method available today.

 The judges also said the Supreme Court can form a committee to conduct a study on the matter if the Government has not undertaken any study on this.

“Mr AG, come back to us and we should have better data before us on the impact of death by hanging, pain caused and the period taken for such death to take place, availability of resources to effectuate such hanging by death. And whether today’s science suggesting that this is the best method today or there is another method which is more suitable to uphold human dignity,” said the Bench.

“If Central Government has not done this study, then we can form a committee which can have experts from national law universities like NLU Delhi, Bangalore or Hyderabad, some doctors from AIIMS, distinguished people across the country and some scientific experts,” added the Bench.

The top court was hearing a petition of advocate Rishi Malhotra to do away with death by hanging and to adopt alternative methods like injection or electrocution which he claimed are comparatively painless.

We may still come to the conclusion that death by hanging is appropriate but we need to be aided by a study, the bench noted.

The plea said the Law Commission in its 187th report had noted that there was a significant increase in the number of countries that abolished hanging and substituted it by electrocution, shooting or lethal injection. “It had categorically opined that hanging is undoubtedly accompanied by intense physical torture and pain,” said the petition. Malhotra argued that the process in India of hanging till death is absolutely cruel and inhumane.

“We have to see if this method satisfies the test of proportionality or whether there is another method which can be adopted so that death by hanging can be declared as unconstitutional,” the bench observed.

Justice Narasimha said that there should be dignity in death and it should be as painless as possible and hanging seemed to satisfy the same. “Hanging seems to satisfy both these conditions... Does lethal injection satisfy on this count? Union Government also says in USA it was found that with lethal injection, death is not immediate,” he said.

“Have you looked at anecdotal incidents of lethal injection? If it is a heavy weight patient, the patient struggles to die,” CJI Chandrachud weighed in. “No process is fool proof… We have to compare it with hanging,” said Malhotra.

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