"Took Oath To Uphold Law, Law Prescribes Death Penalty": Chief Justice-Designate SA Bobde

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had upheld the death penalty last November.

Justice SA Bobde is set to take over from Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi next month.

New Delhi:

Justice SA Bobde, who will take over as the country's top judge in November, today said that he has no objection to the death penalty so long as the law provides for it. "Judges take an oath to uphold the law. The law provides for the death penalty today, and its constitutional validity has been upheld. It is in the statute book," he told NDTV in an exclusive interview that covered various facets of the judiciary's functioning.

The punishment, which is prescribed by the Supreme Court in the "rarest of rare" cases, has long been the subject of much debate over the years. A three-judge bench of the top court had upheld the constitutional validity of the death sentence in November last year, although there was some difference in opinion over its applicability.

Justice Kurian Joseph -- while reading out their verdict in a specific case -- said that until such a time that the death penalty exists in statute books, the "burden to be satisfied" by a judge in imposing it should be high.

The central government, however, claims that the demand for abolition of the death penalty does not have much resonance in India. Responding to a private member bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy claimed that 90 per cent of the states in the country want to retain the capital punishment as a deterrent against especially heinous crimes. He also cited data from the National Crime Records Bureau to say that capital punishment was given to just one person each in 2012 and 2013.

Former Chief Justice YK Sabharwal had expressed his opposition to the death penalty when he was about to take over the top post in 2005. The judge, however, said that he has no option but to accept the provision while it remains in the statute book.

As of 2019, over 50 countries across the world still have the death penalty.

The Chief Justice designate also spoke on his plans to implement technology related to artificial intelligence in courtrooms across the country -- besides other issues like transparency in the judiciary. "One, artificial intelligence can create a legal research assistant, answering questions pertaining to a particular case. Second, it can take away the drudgery of repetitive tasks, leaving the judge free to apply his mind on the growth of the law. It can also help with things like clubbing cases together," Justice Bobde said.

He termed the age-old legal dispute over the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya as "one of the most important cases in the world" in his interview with NDTV. The verdict in the case is expected to come before November 17, when incumbent Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi is set to retire.