A Question of Law: Sentence of Death by Firing Squad in India

The IPC and the code of criminal procedure 1973 lay down the method for execution of death sentence awarded by a criminal court. The sentence is to be executed by hanging only. Military law in India is the only law that permits execution of a death sentence by a firing squad.

The British ruled much of the world for close to 200 years. They also colonized India and enforced their own laws in India. The British enacted the Indian Penal Code 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898.These was based on English law prevalent at that time in England. As far as India was concerned these laws were progressive as the age old and archaic Sharia and Hindu laws were superseded.

 In England at that time (18/19 Century) the punishment for heinous crimes was death by hanging. The same was incorporated in the IPC. Thus death by hanging was the norm in India for heinous crimes like murder and culpable homicide. The British also drafted the Jail manuals. Each state had a separate jail manual though the substance of the jail manuals was the same.  The code of criminal procedure 1973 was passed by Parliament, which was a reprint of the old Criminal Procedure Code (1898) of the days of the Raj. Section 354(5) of the criminal procedure code lays down the procedure of death by hanging which is amplified by the Jail manuals of the states. The jail  manuals which are a reprint of the English jail manuals  lay down the exact procedure for hanging of a convict condemned to death by a criminal court. As  an example chapter XXXI of the jail manual of the Punjab and Haryana  States  gives a detailed exposition of how  to carry out a hanging.

  In India there is no provision to carry out a death sentence by any other means than hanging. There is however one exception and that is the Army/Navy/ Air Force act 1950, where a General Court Martial can award a sentence of death by hanging or shot to death. This is incorporated from English where during the 19th century military law specified death by a firing squad.  The relevant provision in the Army act is Chapter VII Section 71. However the sentence of death does not find mention in the Unified Armed Forces act of 1998 in England.

  In India a death sentence awarded by a GCM is to be executed as per the laid down regulations and procedures.  It will be carried out by a firing squad.  The discretion of awarding a sentence of death is with the court martial and not the accused. Till date no execution by a firing squad has taken place in India since 1947. The law commission examined all forms of death sentences in India and concluded that death by shooting was the most humane method of execution.


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Nisha Danny
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Posted on Apr 22, 2012
Kaleidoscope Acres
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