Why Judges break the nib of their pen after awarding a death sentence

This custom of breaking nib after awarding capital punishment has been inherited from British Raj

In Bollywood films, while passing a death sentence a judge would say — Ye Adalat Dafaa 302 ke tahat, taaziraat-e-Hind muzrim xyz ko Sazaaye maut sunaiyee jaati Hai… to be hung by the neck until death — and the judge subsequently breaks the nib of his pen. Indian judges have been following the custom of breaking the nib of their pens after awarding a death sentence to a convict since British Raj.

The first question that pops up in our mind is that why did this tradition even exist in the first place? And why is it continued since then? Here are the reasons why this practice continues in our courtrooms even today:

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1. The practice is symbolic of the belief that a pen which is used to take away a person’s life should not be used ever again for other purposes. In other words, the pen has ‘tasted blood’, and thus it needs to be broken so that it doesn’t take another life.

2. Also, after the judge passes the death sentence, he has no power to review or revoke his order. So once the sentence has been awarded and the judge’s signature inked, the nib is also broken, symbolic of the fact that the judge cannot cancel or rewrite the judgement if he/she has a change of heart or mind.

3. Some are also of the belief that judges simply do away with the ‘tainted’ pen (having ordered the death of a person) as a way of distancing himself/herself from the judgement and the guilt of the same.

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Over the world, 56 countries still retain the practice of capital punishment and 103 countries have abolished the practice de jure for all crimes, while 6 have abolished it for ordinary crimes.

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