Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde on Thursday said a condemned person cannot fight the death penalty endlessly and it was important for the capital punishment to reach its finality.
The death penalty, he noted, cannot be questioned at every turn by the convict. “One cannot go on fighting endlessly for everything.”
The CJI said it was not for a judge to forgive a crime. The cardinal duty of a judge was to see if the punishment was proportionate to the crime. The law applied whether the criminal was a first-timer or a hardened one.
“Courts punish crime. If you go by the innocence of a human being, the worst criminal would have an innocent heart. There is nobody who is a criminal at the depth of their heart… It is not the judge but the law that deals with a criminal. A judge, being a human being, cannot forgive a murderer. The law and the judge act for society. Imagine a situation when a judge tells a murderer 'yes, I forgive you!'. Imagine the impact!” Chief Justice Bobde observed.
The CJI asked Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta whether a condemned person, who reforms after the award of the death sentence by a court, should be spared the noose.
Mr. Mehta replied, “If that is accepted, there will be no death penalty. You can't kill your parents and then claim mercy saying you are an orphan”.
The oral remarks came a day after the Centre filed an application , in the background of the Nirbhaya case, to modify a 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court in the Shatrughan Chauhan case . The 2014 verdict had issued guidelines, which primarily held that an unexplained delay in carrying out an execution would lead to commutation of the death penalty to life imprisonment.
In its application, the government asked the Supreme Court to set short deadlines for death row convicts to seek legal remedies. It wanted the court to limit the time for filing curative petitions. A mercy plea should be filed within a week of issuance of death warrant. If a mercy plea had been rejected, death warrant should be issued within the next seven days and execution carried out a week thereafter. The pendency of review or curative petitions of his co-convicts would be of no consequence for a man whose mercy plea had been rejected.
This application was filed after the four Nirbhaya convicts separately and repeatedly approached courts for one relief or the other. Their execution dates have already been extended from January 22 to February 1 .
Mr. Mehta blamed the Chauhan judgment for being “convict-centric”. The 2014 guidelines should be tweaked to make them victim and society-centric, he argued.
The remarks and discussion on Thursday were part of a hearing of the review petitions filed by Shabnam and her partner, Salim, both of whom have been condemned to death for the murder of seven members of her family, including an infant.
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, for the couple, said they were both first-time criminals. She argued that crimes, however heinous, should be seen separately from the criminals who committed them. There were many facets to a criminal. Ms. Arora argued that the couple have reformed in their years spent in prison after the death sentence. The court reserved the review petitions for judgment.