Over a year after refusing to reconsider death penalty awarded to Red Fort terror attack case convict Mohammed Arif alias Ashfaq, the Supreme Court changed its mind on Tuesday and said it will be a miscarriage of justice if he is not given an opportunity to file a fresh review petition for a “limited oral hearing in open court” to fight for his life.
A five-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur allowed the convict, represented by senior advocate R. Basant and advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, a month's time to file a fresh review petition and also include additional grounds in his defence.
The Bench reasoned that Ashfaq was the only death row convict, who did not get the benefit of a majority judgment passed by another five-judge Constitution Bench on September 2, 2014, which allowed review petitions of condemned prisoners to be heard in open court rather than inside judges' chambers.
Chief Justice Thakur's Bench reasoned that though >Ashfaq was the lead petitioner among the death row convicts, which included those convicted in the 2000 Dharmapuri bus burning incident in Tamil Nadu, which led to the September 2 judgment, he was the only one who did not benefit from the favourable verdict.
The September 2 judgment had been implicit in its direction that the verdict would not apply to condemned prisoners whose curative petitions had already been dismissed by the apex court. Ashfaq's curative petition had already been dismissed on January 23, 2014.
Chief Justice Thakur justified that a “concession” may be allowed to the condemned man in order to avoid even the slightest possibility of an error.
Three Army personnel were killed in the >Red Fort terror attack in 2000. The majority judgment written by Justice Rohinton Nariman, who was also a judge on Chief Justice Thakur's Bench, had dismissed the convict's arguments that he spent over 13 years in jail and this, in effect, meant that he had suffered a double punishment of life sentence and death penalty.