Anup Surendranath achieved a distinction in the BCL here in Oxford in 2008, collected another distinction for his MPhil, and completed his DPhil under the supervision of Professor Sandra Fredman, one of the leading scholars on equality, anti-discrimination and human rights law. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that he has already been appointed to the position of Assistant Professor in the relatively new National Law University in Delhi.

What is surprising though is that he and his colleague, Ms. Neha Singhal, are the first academic researchers to systematically visit all prisoners sentenced to death in India. Having started the project 5 months back with a team of over 35 researchers, they will be interviewing nearly 500 prisoners sentenced to death along with tracking and interviewing their families across the length and breadth of India.

The project is interested in the socio-economic profile of those who get the death penalty in India and mapping the experience of such prisoners and their families with the criminal justice system. Very initial trends indicate – perhaps inevitably – that the vast majority of inmates are socio-economically deprived ‘low caste’ prisoners. Anup and his colleagues talk to them about their trial and pre-trial experiences in an effort to establish if they were protected by due process safeguards, if they had a fair right to appeal, and how the sentencing procedures were applied in their case. In a country where approximately 85% of death sentences are commuted on appeal, fair process is, of course, crucial. Nonetheless, a great many wait for 4 or 5 years for the higher courts to confirm their sentences, each day uncertain about the outcome.

The research team have some way to go before completing this mammoth empirical task – and as with many academics in Asia, and indeed in Western liberal democracies, they are struggling to secure sufficient funding - but I, for one, look forward to their published findings. They promise to be very important for our understanding of the administration of the death penalty in India, a subject that has been, until now, largely below the radar.