"This court has not endorsed the approach of aggravating and mitigating circumstances in Bachan Singh (case). However, this approach has been adopted in several decisions. This needs a fresh look. In any event, there is little or no uniformity in the application of this approach," said a bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and Madan B Lokur.
The famous case of Bachan Singh versus State of Punjab, decided 32 years ago by the apex court, had dealt with two issues - the first pertained to the constitutional validity of the death penalty for murder as provided in Section 302 of the IPC and second one was on "sentencing procedure embodied in sub-section (3) of Section 354 of the CrPC, 1973."
It had dealt with aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the case. While aggravating circumstances deal with the offence, the mitigating circumstances relate to the offender.
Justice Lokur, writing the judgement for the bench, differed with the view of the famous verdict.
"Aggravating circumstances relate to the crime while mitigating circumstances relate to the criminal. A balance sheet cannot be drawn up for comparing the two. The considerations for both are distinct and unrelated. The use of the mantra of aggravating and mitigating circumstances needs a review," the judgement said.
The bench rued that judiciary has not dealt with the sentencing process with due seriousness.
"In sentencing process, both the crime and the criminal are equally important. We have, unfortunately, not taken the sentencing process as seriously as it should be with the result that in capital offences, it has become judge-centric sentencing rather than principled sentencing.
"The Constitution Bench of this Court has not encouraged standardisation and categorisation of crimes and even otherwise it is not possible to standardise and categorise all crimes," the court said.
The Constitution Bench had observed that under the old CrPC, the sentence of death and life imprisonment under section 302 of the IPC could be imposed "after weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the particular case."
However, the standard of making the balance sheet of the mitigating and aggravating circumstances has been applied differently by different judges and needed to be looked at afresh.
The court, in 1980, had classified the nature of cases to carve out the "rarest of rare" category, while identifying mitigating circumstances which it held should enable a judge to consider awarding life sentence even in convictions warranting imposition of death penalty.