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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

SC: Death not mandatory for murder with illegal firearm

Mandatory death penalty for murder by using “prohibited” firearms or ammunition is unconstitutional in a country where there is an independent judiciary and citizens’ rights are protected

Written by Krishnadas Rajagopal | New Delhi | Published: February 2, 2012 2:38:55 am

Mandatory death penalty for murder by using “prohibited” firearms or ammunition is unconstitutional in a country where there is an independent judiciary and citizens’ rights are protected in a Constitution,the Supreme Court held on Wednesday.

In a judgment,a Bench of Justices A K Ganguly and J S Khehar struck down Section 27(3) of the Arms Act which imposes mandatory death penalty on a person who causes death by “using” a prohibited firearm or ammunition. Justice Ganguly said the word “use” in the section does not distinguish between “intentional” use and “accidental” one.

This means that a person who accidentally causes the death of another using a prohibited firearm would be mandatorily sentenced to death.

Justice Ganguly says even Section 302 of the IPC gives the court of law an option between death penalty and life imprisonment. But Section 27(3) gives it no choice but to sentence a person to death.

The court was pronouncing the verdict on an appeal filed by the Punjab government against a High Court decision to acquit a CRPF constable accused of shooting to death a fellow personnel and injuring his superior in 1993.

Terming the section as “drastic”,Justice Ganguly said,“A law which is not consistent with notions of fairness while it imposes an irreversible penalty like death penalty is repugnant to the concept of right and reason.”

The 1959 Act had been amended in 1988 to provide for enhanced punishments in respect of offences in the context of escalating terrorist and anti-national activities. Prohibited arms include the likes of automatic firearms,machine guns of various types,rockets and rocket launchers.

“Section 27(3) is totally devoid of any guidelines and no exceptions have been carved out… The administration of justice was considered a function of the judiciary under Article 126 of the Constitution,” the Bench observed in the verdict.

Section 27(3) deprives the judiciary from discharging its Constitutional duties of judicial review,whereby,the courts have the power to use their discretion in the sentencing procedure,the court observed,declaring the section violative of a person’s right to life and dignity.

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