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U.S. | Execution by nitrogen hypoxia doesn’t seem headed for widespread adoption as bills fall short and nitrogen producers object

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The day after Alabama carried out the first-known US execution using nitrogen gas, its attorney general sent a clear message to death penalty states that might want to follow suit: “Alabama has done it, and now so can you.” Indeed, in the weeks immediately following the January execution of Kenneth Smith, it appeared a handful of states were listening, introducing bills that would adopt the method known as nitrogen hypoxia or a similar one. Officials behind each framed the legislation as an alternative method that could help resume executions where they had long been stalled.

India | Supreme Court reopens debate over right to dignified execution

A bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud has reopened a decades-old debate over whether there can be a more humane and dignified way of executing the death penalty.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday (March 21) asked the Centre to defend the law that allows hanging by the neck as a mode of execution. 

Attorney General for India (AG) A R Venkataramani agreed to seek instructions from the government before the court sets up a committee to examine the issue.

A bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud is essentially reopening a decades-old debate over whether there can be a more humane and dignified way of executing the death penalty.

What is this case?


In 2017, Rishi Malhotra, an advocate, filed a public interest petition (PIL) seeking a more dignified way to execute the capital punishment. He argued that a convict whose life has to end because of the conviction and the sentence should not be compelled to suffer the pain of hanging.

The plea in the PIL challenged the constitutional validity of Section 354(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973. This provision reads: “When any person is sentenced to death, the sentence shall direct that he be hanged by the neck till he is dead.”

In the landmark 1982 ruling in ‘Bachan Singh v State of Punjab’, a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the death sentence by a 4:1 majority ruling.

The SC had agreed to hear the 2017 PIL, and had issued notice to the Centre. Court records show that in January 2018, the Centre filed an affidavit defending the current position of law, but the case had not been listed since then. CJI Chandrachud was one of the three judges along with then CJI Dipak Misra and Justice A M Khanwilkar (retd) who had agreed to hear the case.

The case has now been listed after five years.

What is the Centre’s stand?


In its 2018 affidavit, the government had argued that death by hanging was the only “viable” option to execute a death warrant. However, the government also sought additional time to examine the methods followed in other countries.

In its 187th report in 2003, the Law Commission of India recommended that Section 354(5) of the CrPC should be amended by providing an alternative mode of execution of death sentence by “lethal injection until the accused is dead”.

The report suggested that it should be the discretion of the judge to pass appropriate orders regarding the mode of execution of death sentence and to hear the convict on the question of mode of execution of death sentence before passing the discretionary order.

What is the practice in other countries?


According to Amnesty International, 55 countries around the world have the death sentence on the books. While death by hanging is still the most prevalent form of execution, especially in the former British colonies, other modes are followed in some countries.

In the United States, for example, an intravenous lethal injection is given in every state (27 states and American Samoa) that allows the death penalty. 

Electrocution is a secondary method in some states. 

Execution by firing squad is employed in China, and Saudi Arabia uses beheading apart from other methods.

In India, The Air Force Act, 1950, The Army Act 1950, and The Navy Act 1957 say that execution has to be carried out either by hanging by the neck until death or by being shot to death.

Source: indianexpress.com, Staff, March 22, 2023


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