Capital Punishment - Anugra Anna Shaju (1)


Primarily this is not the 17th century. The state and society have come a long way. The practice of giving the death penalty for offenders of social norms and rules has long been in practice but given it is an irrevocable act and a rather immoral way of punishing, the granting of capital punishment needs to be abolished. In today’s world where human rights and the right to life and liberty are of significance, it is troubling that many legal systems around the world still give capital punishments.


All life is precious and no one should be allowed to have control over another’s life or death. Each person owns their life and the state does not have the right to kill anyone. The practice of granting capital punishment will only lower each life’s worth in society and show people that life has no value. It legitimizes the very act that the state is aiming to deter and the death sentence can be in simple terms said to be state-sponsored murder or judicial murder.


It goes against moral as well as legal principles and is barbaric. Capital punishments only give an illusion of justice.  It is used as an act of revenge and is against natural law. From the state of nature, the man had the right to life and the state’s main function is to protect this right, not take it away.  The law commission has also observed that capital punishments do not deter crimes and should be limited to crimes relating to terrorism. It is inconsistent that states that do not even give the individual right over their own lives and have criminalized suicide believe they have the right to execute someone.


Laws are not static, they keep changing. What is illegal now could become legal later on. Similarly moral values and norms of society change. For example, with time, laws regarding adultery and gay marriage have changed. People used to be sentenced to death for adultery in Islamic states. What is seen as an offense now may become part of the society later on but by then death sentence or execution may have already been done. One can also see that laws are becoming more and more lenient and this would be unfair on the person who was executed if the crime he committed is seen as something not grave enough to give a death sentence later on.


Court decisions and judgments may not always be right. The accused may get acquitted later on due to various reasons; there are chances of some important evidence that was missed out initially being found later on proving the person’s innocence. There have been numerous cases in which innocent people were convicted and executed only to be proved later on that they were innocent. The Carlos DeLuna case[1] that happened in Texas is a case in point. Four years after Carlos DeLunawas killed by lethal injection, a project by a professor named Liebman and his students revealed how an innocent man was given capital punishment. The Evans case[2] is another example. In the case, a Welshman named Timothy Evans was executed for the murder of his wife and baby which was later found to be done by a serial killer. The Derek Bentley case[3] was a landmark case that emphasized how shaky the whole system of capital punishments was in Britain. Here, Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig were charged with the murder of a police officer. During a burglary attempt when they were caught, Derek told Craig to “let him have it”. This could have meant either to give the weapon to the officer or to shoot him. Anyway, Craig shot the officer but was not given a sentence as he was a minor. Derek who had a mental age of ten was sentenced to death and hanged in 1953. The Bentley family campaigned for forty years and finally, in 1993 he was pardoned.

So execution is ultimate, irrevocable, and could cost innocent men’s life.


Often the circumstances of the accused may have caused him to commit the crime or offence. The person may have been driven by passion or revenge and may have done the act on the spur of the moment. There are also chances of the person being drunk or on drugs and in a state of mind where they couldn’t think rationally.

Ruth Ellis was hanged for the murder of her boyfriend but many felt that she should have been allowed to plead diminished responsibility because the boyfriend was violent and abusive.[4] Nevertheless, she was hanged and was the last woman to be executed in Britain.

The way a case is presented and the legal arguments put forward could also affect judgments. Here poor people would often find it difficult to get competent and skilled lawyers to defend their case and would end up getting death sentences.


Execution does not allow the guilty person to suffer or realize his mistake. They do not teach anything and is not the way to deter serious crimes. For example, the awarding of the death sentence in the Soumya case[5] did not stop people from committing rapes in the state. On the contrary, the number of rapes in the state of Kerala nearly doubled that year compared to the previous year.[6] While the state was still reeling in the horrors of the Soumya case, a case of a similar fashion, the Arya rape, and murder case[7] happened. This shows that the awarding of death sentences does nothing to prevent or deter crimes in society. If there is a chance of the person re-offending, he should be incarcerated not executed.

Giving capital punishments only adds to the cases in courts and other procedures in the form of appeals, review petitions, and mercy pleas. These take years to complete and contribute to huge economic costs and time wastage for both the court as well as the accused without anything productive happening if the court or the president decides to overturn the death sentence. The anticipatory suffering of the accused while waiting for these decisions is also to be considered.


So it should not be up to a court, a judge, or the President to decide on someone’s life because ultimately they are also humans, the laws they adjudicate on are man-made and therefore not free of error. Hence, capital punishment should be done with because each person’s life counts.

Author(s) Name: Anugra Anna Shaju (National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi)


[1]The Prosecution of Carlos Deluna, 43 COLUM. HUM. Rts. L. REV. (2012).

[2]1950: Timothy Evans Instead of John Christie, Executed Today (2010), https://www.executedtoday.com/2010/03/09/1950-timothy-evans-john-christie-10-rillington-place/#:~:text=Sixty%20years%20ago%20today%2C%20Timothy,to%20be%20a%20serial%20killer.&text=%E2%80%9CChristie%20done%20it.%E2%80%9D.

[3]Case Study: The Derek Bentley Case, GCSE History, https://www.gcsehistory.com/faq/derekbentley.html.

[4]Ruth Ellis – the last woman to hang in Britain, Capital Punishment U.K., http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/ruth.html.

[5]State of Kerala vs. Govindaswamy (2013 – KERHC) : MANU/KE/1234/2013.

[6]Pramod Kumar, Kerala rape case: Why the death penalty does not deter, Firstpost(2013), https://www.firstpost.com/india/kerala-rape-case-why-the-death-penalty-does-not-deter-578141.html.

[7]State vs. Rajesh Kumar (2019 – KERHC) : MANU/KE/0223/2019.

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