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Life imprisonment can be defined as a legal penalty which is authorised by statutory governments globally as a means to punish criminals for the rest of their natural remaining lives. “Due to a significant shift in punitive policy during the previous ten years, the globe has moved away from the practise of the death penalty. As a result, life sentences as an alternative to the death penalty are becoming more common. Due to its prominence as a form of punishment, prison time plays a vital part in India's legal system. Many people feel that life imprisonment is a less severe and more humane form of punishment than the legal alternative of the death sentence. But the notion that the punishment is humane and merely moderately harsh is a long cry from the truth. For those who receive life sentences and their dear ones, in addition to those who are charged with imposing or carrying them out, they have caused a great deal of anguish and stress. Consequently, it would be accurate to say that this widely accepted kind of penance has both advantages and disadvantages. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) “distinguishes between two types of punishment: "imprisonment" and "imprisonment for life." A severe penalty is always imposed after life without parole. Twenty years in jail is the maximum penalty that can be given for an offence (Section 57, IPC). The general consensus is that life in jail is equivalent to 14 years because this provision is used so frequently. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of the state to make the decision whether the sentence is 14 years, 20 years, 30 years, or until the offender passes away.”[1]

In addition, a person's familial situation, level of health, and acts prior to being found guilty affect the length of their sentence. According to s433-A of CRPC, “the sentence cannot be less than 14 years. The courts may impose the death penalty or life imprisonment in serious criminal situations.”[2] The choice between the death penalty and life in prison is typically a difficult one for the courts to make. The death penalty is an exception to the rule of life in prison. Only when imprisonment for life seems like an entirely unsuitable punishment in light of the pertinent facts and circumstances of the crime may the death penalty be applied. The death penalty, sometimes known as the capital punishment, is a punishment meted out to those who have committed grave crimes. As part of the death penalty, the life of the offender is terminated by hanging him or through other comparable techniques. While some nations impose the death penalty for crimes that are seen as inhumane, there remain certain individuals, including United States citizens, who think that the death penalty is an egregious violation of a person's human rights and doesn't serve the goal of reforming.”[3]

Consequently, many states now sentence convicts to life in prison even if they have committed heinous offences, and they do this to protect the accused's right to life because even the most serious offenders have the potential to die. When someone receives the death penalty, they are either hanged or put to death via other means. The UN and other nations believe that the death penalty violates fundamental human rights and does not offer the option for reformation, despite the fact that certain nations do so for crimes against humanity. Due to the inherent worth of life, courts purposely sentence criminals who commit extremely serious crimes to life in prison. Numerous welfare organisations hold the opinion that the death penalty is a simple way for a criminal to get away with his crimes rather than punishing the offender. “According to a number of studies, life in prison without the possibility of parole or remission is an equally harsh sentence to the death penalty. Whether certain life sentences are indeed a substitute to the death penalty or whether they are just a deterrent to crime is a crucial question that emerges here and has gone unresolved in the Indian environment, or simply "death in prison" as a punishment? Global discussion about "life without parole" or "whole life sentences" has been intense. Such statements are refuted by academics by demonstrating how giving up on the prospect of ever having a free life violates the dignity of people, with such arguments being based on the right to personal growth.”[4]

This paper makes the case that given the lack of scholarly discussion of these sentences in India, it is urgent to review them and fully comprehend the serious human rights issues they raise. In relation to India, this article examines the issue of life imprisonment and how it can be a substitute for the existing capital punishment system. Existing statutes and earlier judgements of the Indian courts have also been cited to support the topic.






Conflict between the Supreme Court and lower courts. “The higher courts overturned the death sentences that the trial court had imposed in numerous cases which did not adhere to the strict norms of the law. It is difficult when the trial courts and higher courts cannot agree on a standard for imposing the death penalty. To find common ground, trial courts and higher courts must cooperate. The absence of thorough hearings in trial courts is the cause of the discrepancy in between lower and higher courts. The lower court uses a crime-centric approach to determine the sentence without taking into account any pertinent mitigating factors. The application of the death penalty to some crimes is another concern. The capital punishment being imposed on the exact same day as a conviction is yet another problem. The trial courts must give themselves enough time to evaluate different death penalty alternatives, such life in prison.

Additionally, courts must provide both the accused and the defence a fair chance to present any mitigating circumstances. The accused could not have the chance for a fair trial during the sentencing phase if the penalty is decided on the same day as the conviction.”[5] The courts impose a death sentence based on the circumstances surrounding the offence by forbidding a second sentencing hearing. The process of death sentence in India has become more challenging with the addition of collective conscience as a sentencing consideration. In the case of Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab[6], the court established collective conscience and outlined five key factors that allow judges to impose the death penalty if the community conscience was sufficiently violated. These categories include the way the crime was committed, the reason it was committed, the heinousness and abhorrence of the crime, the characteristics of the victim, and the size of the crime. Moreover, three of these groups received examples. The introduction of collective conscience has a devastating effect on India's already deficient system of capital punishment. In Santosh Kumar v. State of Haryana, the Supreme Court criticised itself for the ambiguous definition of public conscience and the function of courts.

In the instance of Swami Shraddananda;[1] "The issue might be viewed from a somewhat different perspective. There are two sides to the sentence topic. It's possible for a sentence to be excessively harsh or abnormally weak. Whenever a complainant tends to come before courts with a death penalty that has been handed down by the trial court and upheld by the High Court, the Court determine, as it did in the case of the current appeal, that the case just misses the category of the rarest of the rare and may feel hesitant to uphold the death sentence. Yet, the Court might truly believe that a punishment of life in prison, which, subject to reduction, typically translates to a term of 14 years, would be excessively disproportionate and insufficient given the nature of the offence. “The court may be compelled and be persuaded to support the death penalty if the Court's options are only two: death or a sentence of imprisonment, for all intents and purposes, of not more than 14 years. A disastrous course of action would be that. As a result, it limited the relevant government's ability to commute a life sentence. As to if life imprisonment under Sections 53 and 45 of the Penal Code intended imprisonment for the remainder of the prisoner's life rather than whether a convict serving a life sentence has the right to request remission. Whether, in accordance with the guidelines outlined in Swamy Shraddananda, a special category of sentence might well be created for the extremely rare instances in which the death penalty may be replaced by a life sentence or a term of imprisonment. The Constitution's Articles 72 and 161 will always be available because they are constitutional remedies that the court cannot interfere with. 2. Can the "Public Authority" use its remission authority under Sections 432 and 433 of the Code after the President has used his or her parallel authority under Article 72, the Governor has used theirs under Article 161, or this Court has used its constitutional authority under Article 32, as it did in this case? Even if such a decision was taken earlier and used under Article 72 by the President or under Article 161 by the Governor, the Appropriate Government will still be entitled to use its authority under Sections 432 and 433 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. With relation to this Court's application of Article 32 of the Constitution, it is held that the authority granted by Sections 432 and 433 is to be done by appropriate government and not for court to decide.”[7] A fair trial for the accused during the sentence phase and reasonable and prompt judicial discourse is necessary for repairing this structure. Lacking them, applying the death penalty would be arbitrary and unfair. Although many people support the death penalty on ideological grounds, the courts ought to reevaluate this scenario given that due process is not being followed, particularly during the sentencing phase.









This chapter examines alternatives to the death penalty that might be available if it were to be completely abolished, even for the most serious crimes. It examines the ethical, humane, and pragmatic implications of a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. It makes the case that sentences of life without the possibility of parole are not only justifiable but also humane and possibly even beneficial. Many of the human rights concerns that have been at the center of the death penalty itself are brought up by these sentences.

Similar to the two sides of a coin, life imprisonment, and capital punishment are the two options before a judge when deciding the fate of a criminal, concerning a heinous act of crime. Capital punishment is also known as the death penalty or execution, wherein the judge orders to put an end to the life of the criminal by hanging him/her, following the due process of law. Life imprisonment means a prison term for his/her entire life span. Capital punishment or life imprisonment – Which of them is better is a pertinent question, and hence, it has been a sensitive and delicate issue of debate for decades. ‘To err is human, but to forgive is divine’.[8]

A mistake that could be considered an offense or a crime in the eyes of the law is something that every human being on the planet makes at some point in their lifetime, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, when someone in a position of authority shows forgiveness to a wrongdoer, it gives that person a chance to confess his sins and change. Therefore, the State should permit offenders to change for the better. The death penalty is thought to have a positive impact on society and criminals are deterred from committing crimes by their fear of dying. Therefore, the general public supports it in the hope that such severe penalties will serve as deterrents and lower the crime rate.

We can see how cruel the death penalty is when compared to life in prison by looking at the following few arguments. The death penalty as a form of punishment, according to a newspaper article, is absurd. How does killing someone who has killed someone demonstrate that killing is wrong, it asked. It serves no purpose, so India most definitely does not need it.

Capital Punishment Makes Us Less Safe: There is no evidence that the death penalty deters murder any more than the threat of other punishments such as life in prison. In this study, they have mentioned that many criminologists believe that the death penalty makes us less safe because it needlessly takes away limited resources from policies that have been proven to cut crime. If the death penalty deterred crime, states with the death penalty would be safer than those without, but the opposite is true.[9]


Delays in Executing Death Sentence: Families of murder victims who have lost loved ones believe that receiving the death penalty will not bring them closure. In cases involving the death penalty, the appeals process leads to lengthy court appearances with no guarantee that the sentence will be carried out. In a study on the victim's family that compared the effects of a death sentence with a life sentence for a murderer, it was discovered that when the accused was given a life sentence rather than a death sentence, the families' levels of physical, psychological, and behavioral health were higher and they felt more satisfied with the criminal justice system. Given the mental suffering, the defendant experienced during the sentence, a reasonable reason for reducing the death penalty to life in prison should be taken into consideration.

Capital Punishment Costs More Than A Life Sentence: It seems like it’s cheaper to execute someone than to feed and take care of them for the rest of their life. However, many unavoidable costs make the death sentence more expensive. The death penalty costs million more than one in which prosecutors seek life without parole.[10]

When the Accused Is Incorrectly Convicted: The only distinction between a death sentence and a life sentence is that a prisoner serving a life sentence does not face the possibility of being exonerated after their execution. However, a death sentence that has already been carried out and is later found to be true cannot be reversed. The death penalty is the least desirable form of punishment because it cannot be undone. On occasion, both the sentence and the conviction take place on the same day. According to section 248(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code, trial courts must hold a hearing before imposing a sentence. In addition, courts must record special justifications under Section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code when imposing the death penalty or a life sentence. Inconsistencies in the sentences handed down by the court will result from the courts not adhering to the proper procedure. The rights of the accused and the rights of the victim should be balanced by the courts. Therefore, India should think about replacing the death penalty with life in prison.

Death Penalty Issues: In India, the death penalty is rife with mistakes. The Supreme Court sentenced 60 people to death between 2000 and 2015, admitting that it erred in 15 of those cases. Can we have faith in this system?

On the other hand, a sentence of life in prison offers the accused a second chance to repent of his actions and comprehend the value of human life. When we consider the other perspective, killing an accused person in a matter of seconds prevents him from understanding the suffering of the victim's families. Life in prison prevents all these detrimental effects, and the accused may feel the pain by being placed in solitary confinement or other ways, which may result in a change in the accused's perspective that benefits society as a whole. These and other factors make it clear that the death penalty is inhumane compared to life in prison.

In addition, those sentenced to life without parole have much fewer legal options than those who are given the death penalty. After receiving a death sentence, the defendant and his legal team have the chance to challenge the ruling through the appeals process, usually in an effort to have it overturned. According to this logic, if the state is going to execute a person, it should make sure that the conviction was obtained fairly.


The system is far from ideal. According to studies, 4% of those who are sentenced to death are innocent; as of 2021, 185 death row inmates have been declared free. Police misconduct, fabricated testimony, and reliance on dubious scientific evidence are frequent occurrences in capital murder trials. However, there are legal ways to contest the sentences, even though this doesn't happen to most people.

It may be appropriate to reevaluate all punishments at this point when the idea of execution as a sentence seems more repugnant and unacceptable than ever. What is the real difference between languishing behind bars until so- called natural causes mercifully claim your life and spending years behind bars only to die strapped to a gurney while prison staff administers enough drugs to kill you? Are these distinctions sufficient to abolish one punishment while maintaining the validity of another? If the US is close to abolishing the death penalty, it makes sense that it should also do the same for life imprisonment, which is another cruel and unusual punishment.







In severe criminal cases, the courts have the option of Life imprisonment and capital punishment. The courts usually have a difficult time choosing between the death penalty and life imprisonment. Life imprisonment is the rule to which the death penalty is the exception. The death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inappropriate punishment, having regard to the relevant facts and circumstances of the crime.[11]

The Supreme Court of India upheld the validity of the death penalty in the case of Bachan Singh v State of Punjab and established the framework for such sentencing. This decision has withstood the test of time and remains in effect. Bachan Singh was sentenced to death by the trial court for the murder of three family members, which was later confirmed by the High Court. A five-judge bench presided over the case in an appeal to the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionality of the death penalty. The court upheld the death penalty's legality and applied what is now known as the 'rarest of rare' framework for determining the worthiness of a case for a death sentence. The court's arbitrary sentencing guidelines for judges who sentenced someone to death were challenged. The standards and justifications used by the current courts to impose the death penalty are unclear, even with these guidelines.

The framework for Bachan Singh's sentencing that the court established consists of two components. According to this framework, when deciding whether to sentence someone to death, the courts should consider both the crime's aggravating and mitigating circumstances. In addition to the specifics of the crime, courts should look into the background, history, prior behavior, mental state, and physical health of the convicts. An essential component of the investigation is gathering pertinent information about the defendant. The courts can determine the appropriate punishment by setting the defendant in a context that is specific to him by using a thorough history of the offender. All courts that hear cases involving the death penalty must make sure that the imposition of any other form of punishment is categorically barred prior to the death sentence. There are still instances of arbitrary action and poor adherence to the established framework 40 years after the Bachan Singh ruling.

Only in the "rarest of the rare cases," which is how the death penalty is encouraged in democratic India. This was the decision made by the Supreme Court in the case of Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh in 1979. Later, in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab 1980, this decision was upheld. The fear of death among criminals has significantly decreased as a result of the ruling and decision of the highest court, leading to the most brutal execution of heinous crimes like murder and rape. People in the general public support the death penalty as a result of such gruesome crimes being committed frequently.

Life imprisonment is the most common form of punishment in the world, according to a recent UN report based on the project "Goal 16" for sustainable development goals. This is largely because most courts around the world believe that life imprisonment is a better option than the death penalty. After all, it is revocable. The courts of justice, therefore, prefer life in prison as a sentence.

Every person has the right to life, and those who are sentenced to life in prison have the chance to live, change, and maintain contact with those who have inspired them to be better people. If a criminal receives this sentence early in life, in his twenties, he will have time to reflect on his error and make amends by changing his character or behavior. Second, the use of the death penalty as a form of punishment does not serve the intended purpose of punishing the offender; rather, it gives the offender a peaceful way to get away from all of his wrongdoings.

Do the means always justify the ends when it comes to punishing the guilty with the death penalty? Because we are contradicting ourselves by supporting the death penalty, it would not be appropriate to commit murder ourselves by condemning someone for doing it. Therefore, the question of whether the death penalty or life in prison is preferable should still be debated. Although many would prefer the death penalty, one should always believe that it is preferable to imprison someone for the rest of their lives than to end their life. They eat three square meals a day in prison, and the food is dreadful and hardly edible. Other murderers, rapists, and child abusers are housed in the same cells as them. Wouldn't this harsh life, where they can live out their lives in repentance for the horrifying crime they committed, be a better justice? Without a doubt, giving them the death penalty is preferable to turning them into a murderer. A rule of "an eye for an eye" would render everyone blind.





For the last few decades, there have been questions concerning the death penalty being imposed based mainly on the crime element while disregarding the accused. This suggests that just the severity of the crime was considered whenever the death penalty was imposed, disregarding the circumstances of the accused. Many accused individuals come from underprivileged homes and without access to proper legal representation, making it challenging to discuss any aspect of their daily lives in court. “The Apex Court having brought up this matter repeatedly, and it is currently considering establishing rules for examining the process of imposing death sentences. India's law enforcement system is not perfect and has numerous structural flaws. The design of the criminal justice system, the substance of the substantive and procedural criminal laws, and the daily operation of the judiciary all serve to burden and victimise the most disadvantaged and poorer members of our society. When considering how the death sentence is applied in India, this really is true with even more sad results. The death sentence is a very unpopular choice in India due to factors like the costly costs of getting effective justice.”[12]


The National Law University of Delhi's centre on the death penalty produced the Death Penalty India Report, which goes into great detail about the aforementioned issues. Life sentences without parole are even more cruel than the death penalty. In both cases, the prisoner must either wait for his death or live in constant fear of it. Under a death sentence there is still clarity of when, in a Life imprisonment there is none - and the wait to die extends to infinity. The life of a person is slowly gnawed away by a life sentence. It is incorrect to believe that everyone is beyond redemption and improvement. The inherent "human" nature and "potential for reform" of prisoners serving life sentences cannot be disregarded, in the opinion of those of us who have dealt with them. This is not to suggest that they deserve any pity for what they did, but to support the notion that "reformation" is conceivable.”[13] Of course, a person shouldn't be permanently barred from society because of one bad deed. As hope falters, rage emerges, which can take many different forms and injure both the body and the mind. It is probably comparable to slowly killing a person in this regard. It is concerning that these sentences—including those with limitations on the state's ability to commute them—are being used more frequently in India. There is a strong possibility that such sentences will become the rule rather than the exception if there is no discussion of the potential effects of such sentences on inmates or their families, as well as no sentencing guidelines to direct the administration of such terms So, it is crucial that the law governing life sentences develops and changes, and the detrimental effects. “Only the most serious crimes carry the death penalty or life in prison. The death sentence raises a number of sociological and ethical issues. Although life in prison is frequently regarded as an alternative to the death penalty, the courts must proceed with caution in all cases. The flaws in the criminal justice system are made clear by incidents of inadequate legal assistance, brutality in detention centres, and lack of representation. Ironically, in                  many situations in India, the accused does not have access to consular services, contrary to the argument India made in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case before the ICJ that Pakistan had denied the accused consular access in breach of article 36 of the Vienna Convention.”[14] (Death Penalty Report from India). The expenses of an execution is projected to be between $1.8 and $3 million according to the Steiker's research, while the cost of life in jail without the possibility of parole is $1.13 million. According to the researchers, the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole can definitely be employed in place of the death penalty. It meets the criteria for punishment, incapacitation, and deterrence.

Additionally, it protects victim rights and gives the victim and indirect victims peace and reparation. Although the court determined in Sriharan and Shraddananda that imprisonment for life did not infringe on fundamental rights, that stance is unlikely to be upheld by international human rights law. Yet, whether life in prison without the chance of parole is an appropriate substitute for the death sentence in the near term and as a first step is a very tough question to answer. It is difficult to understand the brutality involved in telling someone they would spend the remainder of their lives behind bars with no chance at parole. There is a certain strategic allure to advocate for the death penalty's abolishment while proposing life in prison without the possibility of parole as a substitute. We must be clear, nevertheless, that this choice also involves grave abuses of human rights.”[15] Yet, the purpose of this article was to further the legal debate by examining the death penalty in light of the recently developed sentence of life in prison without parole till the end of a person's natural life. In this context, it's crucial to find an equilibrium between victim rights and accused person rights. As an alternative to the capital punishment, India may indeed consider life in prison without the possibility of parole, as was developed in the cases of Shraddananda and Sriharan.













[1] The Indian Penal Code, 1860

[2] The Code of Criminal Procedure,1973

[3] Mahima chaudhary, ‘Life Imprisonment: A substitute to Death Penalty?’ (Latest laws, 11 July 2020)

< https://www.latestlaws.com/articles/life-imprisonment-a-substitute-to-death-penalty> accessed 11 March 2023

[4] Professor Dirk van Zyl Smit, Catherine Appleton, Life Imprisonment A Global Human Rights Analysis, (Harvard University Press 2019) 298.

[5] Souradh C Walson, ‘How should courts decide between life imprisonment and capital imprisonment (LawSikho, 18 February 2021)

< https://blog.ipleaders.in/courts-decide-life-imprisonment-capital-imprisonment/> accessed 11 March 2023

[6] 1983 Air 957, 1983 Scr (3) 413

[7] Mahima chaudhary, ‘Life Imprisonment: A substitute to Death Penalty?’ (Latest laws, 11 July 2020)


< https://www.latestlaws.com/articles/life-imprisonment-a-substitute-to-death-penalty> accessed 11 March 2023

[8] Rachit Garg, ‘How Should Courts Decide between Life Imprisonment and Capital Imprisonment’ (iPleaders18 February 2021)

<https://blog.ipleaders.in/courts-decide-life-imprisonment-capital- imprisonment/#:~:text=So%2C%20life%20imprisonment%20is%20seen> accessed 11 March 2023.

[9] Ishaan Michael, ‘LIFE IMPRISONMENT-an ALTERNATIVE to CAPITAL PUNISHMENT – Legge Rhythms’ (leggerhythms.org)


[10] Baptiste N, ‘Are Life Sentences a Merciful Alternative to the Death Penalty?’ (Mother Jones12 March 2021)


[11] Is Capital Punishment Humane than Life Imprisonment?»’ (7 May 2021) <https://www.lawaudience.com/is-capital-punishment- humane-than-life-imprisonment/>.

[12] ibid

[13] Amnesty International India and People’s Union for Civil Librties .2008.Lethal Lottery- the death penalty in India: a study of Supreme Court judgments on Death Penalty 1950 -2006.New Delhi: Amnesty International

[14] Mahima chaudhary, ‘Life Imprisonment: A substitute to Death Penalty?’ (Latest laws, 11 July 2020)

< https://www.latestlaws.com/articles/life-imprisonment-a-substitute-to-death-penalty> accessed 11 March 2023

[15] ibid


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