Project 39A is a criminal justice initiative, based in the National Law University, Delhi – a prestigious public university in New Delhi. Inspired by Article 39-A of the Indian Constitution, Project 39A’s work furthers the intertwined values of equal justice and equal opportunity. Project 39A uses empirical research to re-examine policies on various criminal justice issues like the death penalty, torture, legal aid, mental health, and forensics. Project 39A provides legal representation to prisoners sentenced to death at the appellate stages, as well as to undertrial prisoners in two of India’s largest prisons in Maharashtra, under the Fair Trial Programme. Our research and legal interventions are grounded in an interdisciplinary approach.
Project 39A’s initiation into the criminal justice system was through its work on the Death Penalty India Report (May 2016) a first of its kind empirical study on the socio-economic profile of death row prisoners and their interaction with the criminal justice system. Our other landmark research study is Deathworthy (October 2021), an empirical study on mental health and the death penalty. An important part of our research is also to undertake empirical inquiries into capital sentencing law and processes to lay bare its arbitrary imposition. We also publish the Annual Statistics Report on the state of the death penalty in India. Project 39A has been involved in conducting two audits of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee – the state body which provides free legal aid at the Supreme Court. For our pro bono legal representation to death row prisoners we challenge the conviction as well as the death sentence in each case. We are also involved in devising strategic litigation interventions, aimed at reforming procedural and substantive issues that affect the rights of prisoners sentenced to death. Project 39A currently represents over 60% of death penalty cases before the Supreme Court.