SC agrees to examine Centre’s plea for victim, society-centric guidelines in death penalty cases


File Photo Supreme Court

File Photo Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine the Centre’s plea for laying down victim and society-centric guidelines in cases of death penalty.

The Centre had on January 22 moved an application contending that the prevalent guidelines are only accused and convict-centric.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde sought response from various stakeholders on whose petition the apex court in 2014 had laid down guidelines relating to the execution of death row convicts.

The guidelines were laid down in the Shatrughan Chauhan case in 2014.

The bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, made it clear that the issue of conviction and death sentence connected with the Shatrughan Chauhan case would not be altered while dealing with the Centre’s plea.

The bench issued notice to the respondents who were named in the Shatrughan Chauhan matter.

Observing that heinous crime convicts are taking the judicial process for a ride, the Centre had on January 22 moved the apex court for fixing a 7-day deadline for execution of condemned prisoners after issuance of black warrant, amid the delay in the hanging of the four death row convicts in the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape-murder case.

Fresh death warrants were issued by a Delhi court on January 17 for the hanging of Vinay Sharma (26), Akshay Kumar Singh (31), Mukesh Kumar Singh (32) and Pawan (26) on February 1 after their hanging scheduled in Tihar jail on January 22 was postponed due to pending petitions.

The hanging has been delayed due to filing of review, curative and mercy petitions over a period of several months, prolonging the agony of Nirbhaya’s parents and other family members.

Stressing that the need of the hour was to lay down guidelines in the interest of the victims rather than keeping the rights of the convicts in mind, the Centre had said those punished for horrible, dreadful, cruel, abominable, ghastly, gruesome and heinous offences like rape and murder should be not permitted to play with the majesty of law and prolong the execution of the sentence awarded to them.

The Centre has submitted this was necessary in the larger interest of public and of the victims and their families.

Seeking modifications of directions issued in 2014 in the Shatrughan Chauhan case, it has said, “All the guidelines provided…are accused-centric. These guidelines, however, do not take into account an irreparable mental trauma, agony, upheaval and derangement of the victims and their family members, the collective conscience of the nation and the deterrent effect which the capital punishment intends to make.”

The Centre contended that it has been found several years before and after the 2014 judgment, the convicts of heinous crimes under the garb of Article 21 (right to life) take the judicial process for a ride.

The plea has said the apex court opined that the delay in execution of death penalty has got a de-humanising effect upon the death convicts.

In an application, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) sought a direction “to mandate all competent courts, state governments, prison authorities in country to issue death warrant of a convict within seven days of rejection of his mercy petition and to execute death sentence within 7 days thereafter irrespective of the stage of review petition/curative petition/mercy petition of his co-convicts.”

It has also sought a direction that if a death row convict wanted to file a mercy petition, it should be made mandatory for him to “do so only within a period of seven days from the date of receipt of death warrant issued by the competent court”.

The MHA has said the country is facing a menace of certain offences relating to terrorism, rape and murder which are punishable with death sentence.

“There are various instances of such heinous and horrific offences of rape accompanied by an equally horrible and horrific offence of murder of the victim which shakes the collective conscience of the nation,” the MHA said.

The MHA, in its plea filed through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, urged the court to fix a time limit within which the convict of death sentence should file curative petition, if he so chooses to do so.

“In case of multiple convicts of such horrific crimes who are awaiting death sentence, mandating the issuance of warrant by competent court within seven days of rejection of mercy petition and execution of death sentence within seven days thereafter irrespective of the proceeding, if any, taken by his co-convicts,” it said.

The ministry said under the scheme of criminal justice system, a foolproof regime is being provided to the accused at various stages of judicial scrutiny to ensure that an accused is punished strictly in accordance with law and convicts be not allowed to misuse the judicial processes.