Trial courts in India passed 165 death sentences in 2022 – the highest in a single year since 2000, a report by criminal reforms advocacy group Project 39A showed.
This shift has been sharply influenced by the extraordinary sentencing of 38 Muslim men to death in Ahmedabad in a single bomb blast case, representing the largest number of persons sentenced to death in a single case since 2016.
The report titled, “Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics Report 2022” also said that by the end of the last year, 539 persons were on death row in India, the highest since 2004.
“The population on death row has steadily increased over the years, with 2022 representing a 40% increase in the population since 2015. This increase can be attributed to the large number of death sentences imposed by trial courts and the accompanying low rate of disposal of death penalty cases by appellate courts. In the year 2022, High Courts across India decided 68 matters, while the Supreme Court decided 11 matters this year,” read the report.
From the 68 decided cases by the High Courts involving 101 prisoners, 3 prisoners had their death sentences confirmed, 48 prisoners saw their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment, 43 were acquitted of all charges and 6 had their cases remitted to the trial court, the report showed.
From the 11 cases decided by the Supreme Court, involving 15 prisoners, the Court acquitted 5 prisoners of all charges, commuted death sentences to life imprisonment for 8 prisoners and confirmed the death penalty for 2 prisoners. “The acquittal decisions noted the improper nature of investigations and procedural failures by the police, prosecution and trial courts,” stated the report.
“Although appellate courts have continued to commute the majority of death sentences decided in the year, worryingly, these commutations have increasingly resulted in the imposition of life imprisonment without remission. While the Supreme Court imposed life imprisonment without remission for all 8 prisoners whose death sentences were commuted, High Courts imposed the same for over 56.6% prisoners. Placing convict sentences beyond the scope of executive remission raises concerns with the focus of the prison system on reformation and rehabilitation,” read the report.