The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of the death sentence of Surinder Koli for killing children at his employer’s house in Nithari village in Noida in 2006.
The reprieve for Koli was packed with drama as the stay order came in the early hours of Monday. Lawyer Indira Jaising and her team of lawyers knocked on the doors of Chief Justice of India-designate H.L. Dattu’s official residence here in Lutyen's Delhi at 1.30 a.m. even as the city slept. They sought a fresh review into the death sentence.
Koli was due to be hanged at the Chaudhary Charan Singh district jail in Meerut in a few hours. Jail officials said Koli was spending his last hours reading the Bhagvad Gita and answered questions with a blank expression. But the hanging was not carried out on Monday; Ms. Jaising and her lawyer team prevailed.
“We approached Justice Dattu at 1.30 a.m. There was a sitting of a Bench of Justices Dattu and Anil R. Dave, which ordered that the execution be stayed for a week until Koli’s fresh review petition is heard by a Bench comprising three judges of the Supreme Court in an open courtroom where his counsel would be allowed to submit limited oral arguments on his behalf pleading for reversal of his death penalty,” Ms. Jaising told The Hindu on Monday morning.
A one-paragraph order was passed by the Bench staying its July 25 decision dismissing Koli’s review petition against his death penalty. On September 3, a Constitution Bench decided that death row convicts seeking judicial review should be given a public hearing, their counsel should be allowed to argue for 30 minutes and three judges should hear them. Till then, review petitions were usually heard by Supreme Court judges in their chambers. Relief was rare.
The September 3 judgment, authored by Justice Rohinton Nariman, argued that the death penalty was irreversible. Justice should be seen to be done, it said.
Justice Nariman upheld the highest principle of the Constitution – the right of a man to live. “The fundamental right to life and the irreversibility of the death sentence mandate that oral hearing be given at the review stage in death sentence cases, as a just, fair and reasonable procedure under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution,” he wrote in his majority judgment for a Bench led by Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, who concurred.
The judgment had come on a batch of petitions filed by eight men on death row who challenged the practice of Supreme Court judges hearing review petitions of death row convicts in their chambers and not in the public glare of open courtrooms. Koli became the first condemned man to reap the reprieve granted by the judgment.