New Delhi: The brutality of a murder or the age-old concept of 'an eye for an eye' cannot be grounds for terming a case as 'rarest of rare' and awarding death penalty, the Supreme Court has held while commuting to life term the capital punishment awarded to a man for a triple murder.
A bench comprising justices H L Dattu, S J Mukhopadhaya and M Y Eqbal made the observation while cautioning courts to act with utmost responsibility when awarding death penalty as it is the exception and life sentence is the rule.
"In a civilised society, a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye ought not to be the criterion to clothe a case with rarest of the rare jacket and the courts must not be propelled by such notions in a haste resorting to capital punishment...
"Our criminal jurisprudence cautions the courts of law to act with utmost responsibility by analysing the finest strands of the matter and it is in that perspective a reasonable proportion has to be maintained between the brutality of the crime and the punishment," the bench said.
While modifying the trial court verdict awarding death to the appellant, Gudda alias Dwarikendra, which was upheld by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, the bench said, "We cannot lose sight of the fact that brutality also cannot be the only criterion for determining whether a case falls under the rarest of rare categories.
"The degree of brutality has to be ascertained in contrast with other cases and the criteria and the tests laid down (by the apex court in other cases)."
It said while awarding death, the courts should have due regard to the nature of offence so that "the punishment is not disproportionately severe or manifestly inadequate".
Dwarikendra had been convicted and awarded capital punishment for stabbing to death a man, his pregnant wife and their five-year-old son after inviting them to his home for lunch.
The apex court, while commuting to life the death penalty awarded to Dwarikendra, said that though he had planned to murder Gupta, suspecting him of having an affair with his wife, he had killed Gupta's wife and son "due to his sudden realisation and extreme fear of being caught".
"Indeed victims of the crime include an innocent child of five years and a pregnant lady who were assaulted by the appellant who was then in a position of trust having invited them to his house for lunch. But this alone would not be sufficient to place the crime in category of rarest of the rare," the bench said.