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Institute Lecture on 'The Death Penalty: From the perspective of the Constitution, Police, Courts and Executive'

IIT Bombay organized the Sixth Lecture of the “Institute Lecture Series on the Indian Constitution” on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 in Prof. B. Nag Auditorium, VMCC. The lecture was delivered by Dr. Yug Mohit Chaudhry who is a Senior Advocate High Court of Bombay on the topic 'The Death Penalty: From the perspective of the Constitution, Police, Courts and Executive'

Dr. Yug Mohit Chaudhry, a criminal lawyer, leads the movement for the abolition of the death penalty in India, and represents many of the prisoners in imminent danger of execution. He writes regularly in Indian as well as international publications, including for London School of Economics blogs. He grew up in Mumbai. After completing his master’s in English, he taught at Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, where he was earlier a student, and then got a scholarship to Oxford for a doctorate in English. After completing the doctorate, he obtained his law degree at Cambridge, returned to Oxford to write a book on his doctoral dissertation on Yeats called Yeats: The Irish Literary Revival and the Politics of Print and then came back to India to practice law.

He began practicing law in Mumbai in 2001 as a criminal lawyer working on legal aid in prisons and then moving onto more serious cases including murder and appeals in the high court. It was then that he moved on to death penalty, on which he had already spent a long time researching. His first post-mercy death penalty case in which the execution was stayed was that of Mahendra Nath Das from Assam in 2011. According Dr Chaudhry, there is little research on death penalty in India. He and a few others do it voluntarily and NGOs will not touch such cases. The 2014 January 21 decision of the Supreme Court commuting the death sentence of 15 of his death-row clients to life imprisonment was called a ‘miracle’ by Dr Chaudhry and ‘historic’, and has strengthened his belief that indeed law can bring about change.

His talk revolved around the Article 14, the Indian Constitution promises citizens equality before the law and protection from arbitrariness and Article 21 of the Constitution says that ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law’. The Supreme Court has laid down that the procedure has to be fair, just and reasonable. Capital punishment cases in India fall well short of these standards. At the same time, the last three challenges to the constitutionality of the death penalty in India were rejected by the Supreme Court inter alia on the grounds of insufficient data to support the claims of abolitionists. Any program of abolition of the death penalty would have to ground itself on the empirical realities of the criminal justice system. In this presentation, apart from Constitutional concerns, capital punishment cases are traced through three major institutional frameworks to analyze the cumulative weaknesses from which they suffer: the evidence machinery of the Police; the adjudication and sentencing machinery of the Courts; and the Executive which has to deal with mercy petitions.