The “rarest of the rare’ category is a euphemism invented by the judiciary to assuage their collective conscience,” stated noted jurist and senior advocate Fali Nariman on Thursday while calling for the abolishment of the death penalty.
While noting that the death penalty has been a part of Indian law as an alternative to imprison violent criminals since Victorian times, Nariman said, “Courts now profess to impose the death penalty only for what is characterised as the ‘rarest of the rare’ case, which is an euphemistic expression invented by India’s judges only to assuage their collective judicial conscience.”
The category was first coined in 1988, when the Supreme Court in the case of Bachchan Singh v State of Punjab said a crime falls into the rarest of the rare bracket when the “collective conscience of the society is shocked.”
However, while Indian courts continue to impose the death penalty, the government has ensured “few executions are actually carried out. The punishment of “hanging” had become “symbolic” and “no longer a part of the government’s crime control policy,” Nariman added.
His remarks come at a time when the Law Commission has issued a public consultation paper on capital punishment with a detailed questionnaire open to the public to send in their views on the issue.
Legal experts say that each legal challenge to the death penalty has failed.
He was speaking in support of France’s former Minister of Justice Robert Badinter, a well known advocate for the abolishment of death penalty and the chief guest of a conference hosted by the Delegation of the European Union to India in the Capital.