Report No. 262
B. Legislative Backdrop
2.2.1 At independence, India retained several laws put in place by the British colonial government, which included the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 ('Cr.P.C. 1898'), and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ('IPC'). The IPC prescribed six punishments that could be imposed under the law, including death.
2.2.2 For offences where the death penalty was an option, Section 367(5) of the CrPC 1898 required courts to record reasons where the court decided not to impose a sentence of death:
If the accused is convicted of an offence punishable with death, and the court sentences him to any punishment other than death, the court shall in its judgement state the reason why sentence of death was not passed.
2.2.3 In 1955, the Parliament repealed Section 367(5), CrPC 1898, significantly altering the position of the death sentence. The death penalty was no longer the norm, and courts did not need special reasons for why they were not imposing the death penalty in cases where it was a prescribed punishment.
2.2.4 The Code of Criminal Procedure was reenacted in 1973 ('CrPC'), and several changes were made, notably to Section 354(3):
When the conviction is for an offence punishable with death or, in the alternative, with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of years, the judgement shall state the reasons for the sentence awarded, and, in the case of sentence of death, the special reasons for such sentence.
2.2.5 This was a significant modification from the situation following the 1955 amendment (where terms of imprisonment and the death penalty were equal possibilities in a capital case), and a reversal of the position under the 1898 law (where death sentence was the norm and reasons had to be recorded if any other punishment was imposed). Now, judges needed to provide special reasons for why they imposed the death sentence.
2.2.6 These amendments also introduced the possibility of a post-conviction hearing on sentence, including the death sentence, in Section 235(2), which states:
If the accused is convicted, the Judge shall, unless he proceeds in accordance with the provisions of section 360, hear the accused on the question of sentence, and then pass sentence on him according to law.