Out of every 100 prisoners given the death sentence by trial courts in India, 30 are acquitted, reveals the National Law University or NLU’s Death Penalty India Report released on Friday. The first of its kind report also says only five per cent of death sentences are upheld by higher courts.
The report is based on in-depth interviews with 373 of the 385 death row inmates in India, their families and jail authorities conducted by the National Law University between June 2013 and January 2015.
80 per cent of all death row prisoners interviewed for the study said they were tortured in police custody. Complaints ranged from waterboarding, cigarette burns, forced nudity, pulling out fingernails to electric currents.
Eleven death row cases that came to the Supreme Court were dismissed without a hearing on technical grounds, the report adds.
“The report shows our criminal justice system not just needs procedural but systemic reform. The legal aid system is a joke. No one really has any faith in it,” Supreme Court Judge Justice Madan B Lokur said.
The report also shows there is a great distrust in the legal aid system in the country – even those prisoners who can’t afford private lawyers try to hire them – even if they have to sell their assets, jewellery, land for it.
70 per cent of those sentenced to death had never discussed their case details with their lawyers at trial stage. Of those who moved High Court, over 64% haven’t even met their lawyers and 44 per cent don’t even know the names of their lawyers when the case moved to the Supreme Court, the study reveals.
The study also shows most death row prisoners are from poor families. 74 per cent are economically vulnerable – of those 63.2 per cent were either primary or sole earners in their family.
Anup Surendranath, director, Death Penalty Centre Of National Law University told
“They don’t know anything about their cases, nobody is telling them anything. Every day they live in fear. So many of them told us that when they hear footsteps at night, they were they will be taken away to be killed. We need to think about as a society,” he said.