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SC seeks Centre's response on execution by hanging (Lead)

New Delhi, Oct 6 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Centre to respond within three weeks on a plea that sought execution of death sentence by hanging to be declared ultra vires of the Constitution.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said the apex court was conscious of the fact that it had earlier upheld the validity of death sentence by hanging.

The bench asked Attorney General K.K. Venugopal to assist the court in the matter.

Petitioner-lawyer Rishi Malhotra sought a court order to declare Section 354 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) — which provides for execution by hanging — ultra vires of the Constitution, contending that the method given therein was unconstitutional, painful, and not a dignified way to end (human) life.

Section 354(5) says “when any person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that he be hanged by the neck till he is dead”.

The court also asked the legislature to consider alternate modes of execution, as it said that the mode of the execution of death sentence would be decided by the legislature as the process entails amending the Code of Criminal Procedure.

It said the Constitution was an organic compassionate document which recognises the principles of sanctity of life.

The petitioner told the court that the execution of death sentence by hanging violated Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees right to life with dignity.

He said the right to life with dignity also included right to death with dignity, without pain and suffering.

Section 354(5) is violative of Article 21 that guarantees right to life with dignity till natural end of the life, the petitioner contended.

As the petitioner-lawyer addressed the court on less painful methods of execution, Justice Chandrachud said there was a lot of criticism on carrying out death sentence by administering lethal injections.

The petitioner has cited an earlier Supreme Court judgement that said: “The act of the execution should be as quick and as simple as possible and free from anything that unnecessarily sharpens the poignancy of the prisoner’s apprehension, should produce immediate unconsciousness (and) passing quickly into the death, should be decent and not involve any mutilation.”

Referring to the procedure as laid down in the Punjab and Haryana Jail Manual, the petitioner said the entire procedure was painful.

He also referred to an earlier Law Commission report to tell the bench that the execution of death sentence by hanging was painful, brutal, and violative of Article 21.

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