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Asked November 23, 2013

doctrine of rarest of rare

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What is the 'rarest of rare' doctrine which the court's mention as a ground for awarding Death Penalty in India? Is Death Penalty against Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution?

Answer 1

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Asmita Rakhecha

The Doctrine of Rarest of Rare was established after the judgement was delivered in the case of Bacchan Singh v State of Punjab [(1980) 2 SCC 684] where life sentence was regarded as the rule and death sentence as an exception. Even though this doctrine has no statutory definition, it basically provides that death should be awarded to a person as a form of punishment only in cases wherein the functioning of the society in an orderly fashion demands the extinction of life of the wrong doer. While determining whether the doctrine of rarest of rare applies to a particular case the court must take into account various aspects of the crime such as manner of commission of crime, motive behind commission of crime, nature of crime and the criminal and the magnitude of the crime. Only after considering all of these points should a death penalty be awarded.

Article 21 of the Constitution provides that ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.’ Thus in a case where the law demands capital punishment then this shall not be in violation of the Constitution.

In Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P Capital punishment was challenged to be constitutionally invalid and violating Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the constitution. In this case, the Supreme Court held that in certain exceptional circumstances capital punishment should be awarded keeping public interest, social defence and public order in mind. However they also stated that such an award must be given only in exceptional circumstances thereby making it ‘Rarest of Rare’ doctrine. 

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