The former judge of the Supreme Court, K.T. Thomas, who headed the three-member Bench that pronounced the final judgment in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, has called for its review as, he said, it would be unconstitutional to implement the ruling now.
On May 11, 1999 the Bench of Mr. Justice Thomas, Justice Sayeed Shah Mohammed Quadri and Justice D.P. Wadhwa pronounced the judgment in the appeal by the 26 sentenced to death in the case by the Special Court.
The apex court sentenced Murugan (A-3), Santhan (A-2), Perarivalan alias Arivu (A18) and Nalini (A-1) to death penalty. In a minority judgment, Mr. Justice Thomas commuted the Nalini’s death sentence to life imprisonment, citing that she was led into the conspiracy and was not aware who the target was till the last moment. He also maintained that the child of Nalini and Murugan would be subjected to orphanhood if the mother too was sentenced to death penalty. Later, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the then Tamil Nadu Governor Fatima Beevi.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Thomas said he was expressing his opinion as the media had prompted him to respond to the issue. He cited two reasons for his present opinion. The three have been undergoing imprisonment for the past 22 years. Had they been sentenced to life imprisonment, they would have been able to avail themselves of certain beneficial provisions in the law for consideration of remission and relaxation after 14 years as provided by Section 433 (a) of Cr p.c.
Implementing the death sentence now would, in effect mean a double penalty for the crime, he said. “Law does not provide for it. This will go against the provisions of Article 21.”
The judgment, while pronouncing the death sentence also failed to go into the antecedents, nature and character of the accused. In his 2010 judgment Justice S.B. Sinha called for considering the nature and character of the accused while awarding the death sentence. This was a flaw in the judgment, he said adding that the sentence part of the final judgment could be subjected to review.
Mr. Thomas said his original judgment to hang the three was based on the oath he took when he joined as a judicial officer that his personal views would not influence the discharge of his duties. According to him, he had expressed his opinion for a review of the final judgment of the State Vs. Nalini Case earlier also. As a judge at the trial court, he had awarded the death penalty on three occasions and at the apex court, the death penalty was awarded in three cases, including the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, he said.