As per law, no death sentence imposed by a trial court can be executed unless the punishment is confirmed by the High Court too and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1973 requires trial courts to refer every judgement related to imposition of capital punishment to the jurisdictional High Court for confirmation.
Section 366(1) of the CrPC states: “When the Court of Session passes a sentence of death, the proceedings shall be submitted to the High Court and the sentence shall not be executed unless it is confirmed by the High Court,” and sub clause (2) of the provision adds that the death convict should be committed to jail custody until further orders to be passed by the High Court.
Therefore, even if the convict does not prefer an appeal, the trial court’s verdict against him would automatically be taken up by the High Court Registry as a ‘Referred Trial’ and listed before a Division Bench for hearing. If the convict also prefers an appeal, then both the appeal as well as the RT would be clubbed and heard together.
Affirmation rate low
A peep into the history of the hearing on RTs as well as appeals against death sentences before the Madras High Court would show that most of those cases have ended up in the capital punishment being commuted to life sentences mostly on the premise that those cases do not fall under the ‘rarest of rare’ category warranting death penalty.
A case in point is the commutation of death sentence imposed by Virudhunagar Principal Sessions Court on an individual for committing sodomy on a four-year-old boy and murdering him. “The offence committed by the accused is macabre, gruesome, dastardly, horrible, abnormal, unnatural, blood curdling, hair raising and unduly obnoxious. Yet, this cannot be treated as the rarest of rare offences,” the High Court had said while modifying the sentence to life imprisonment.
Referring to the dictum laid down by the Supreme Court in the famous Bachan Singh case, Machhi Singh case and Devendra Nath Rai’s case, the High Court had been constantly holding that those cases cull out a basic principle of law that death sentence could be awarded only when the collective conscience of the community was so shocked that it would expect the holders of judicial power centre to inflict death penalty irrespective of personal opinions.