3 reasons judges break their pen after a death sentence

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Here’s why you might see a judge break his pen after passing a death sentence.

The tradition of breaking a pen after a death sentence among judges all over the world has deeply symbolic and historical meaning.

Most judges write down their judgement and sentencing before giving reading it out, but whenever a judge gives a death sentence to an accused person, he breaks his pen. Why?

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The practice of breaking the nib after passing a death sentence dates back to the Mughal dynasty in India. It was around this time that the Mughal Emperor would break the quill used to sign death sentences. This approach was later adopted by British justices in colonial India and extended after India attained independence.

It should be noted that this practice is not codified by law, yet many judges do it voluntarily.

The pen is broken to mean it has served its purpose. The pen was used to take a life and can’t be used for any other purpose. Death sentences are special because they aren’t given out every day.


It means the judge feels sombre about passing a death sentence. This is a symbolic act that emphasises the judge’s emotional weight and responsibility in deciding someone’s fate.

When judges do it, it conveys the finality and irrevocability of a death sentence, which cannot be reversed once imposed.

Although most countries have revoked death penalties as punishment for crimes, 55 countries still enforce them.

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