Yesterday, The Hindu carried a short news-item announcing the appointment of Justice YK Sabharwal as the new CJI with effect from Nov 01, 2005. Today’s edition of the paper features an interview with Justice Sabharwal where he sticks to the expected line for new occupants to the post for much of the time, but has this interesting response to a question about his views on the death penalty:
“I believe that as long as it’s there in the IPC, whatever may be my personal feelings they must be kept out. If a case comes under the category of cases where the death penalty has to be inflicted, it must be inflicted. I don’t want to bring in my personal views about the death penalty and say that, despite the legal provision and despite the provision of IPC, I will not award it. If you ask my personal opinion, not as a Judge of the Supreme Court but as a citizen of this country, I will say my personal opinion is that we should not have the death penalty and that we can have a life sentence for entire life. This is because it is difficult for anyone to award something that cannot be restored. At the same time, there are strong viewpoints. In the whole of Europe, it [capital punishment] is not there. In many of the States in the U.S., it is not there. In many other countries, it is not there. It is a socio-political question and ultimately whether it is to be continued or not is a decision to be taken by the Indian Parliament.” Earlier this year, Justice Sabharwal had objected to the appointment of a former director of the Central Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) as a member of the National Human Rights Commission (The appointment was later upheld by a larger bench of the Supreme Court in April 2005, leading to this protest by a human rights group).
I may be clutching at straws, but these are good signs for those of us who are interested in human rights issues, and would like to see the Supreme Court engage more vigorously -and seriously – with comparative constitutional law.