Death penalty | Supreme Court admits government plea seeking ‘victim and society centric’ guidelines

The application comes in the aftermath of the four Nirbhaya convicts separately and repeatedly approaching the courts for one relief or the other

Updated - February 01, 2020 01:33 am IST

Published - January 31, 2020 01:25 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The government’s application delves on the point that the legal process leading finally to the actual execution of the condemned man is labyrinthine and susceptible to be misused by the convict to prolong the day of execution.

The government’s application delves on the point that the legal process leading finally to the actual execution of the condemned man is labyrinthine and susceptible to be misused by the convict to prolong the day of execution.

The Supreme Court on Friday admitted the government’s plea to issue some “victim and society centric” guidelines to prevent delay in execution of condemned people in death penalty cases, but added the rider that it would not consider any plea to alter past judgments or existing rights of death row prisoners.

The government’s application delves on the point that the legal process leading finally to the actual execution of the condemned man is labyrinthine and susceptible to be misused by the convict to prolong the day of execution. Delay is a ground for commutation of death penalty. The long-winded process and consequent delay renders stale the expectation of the victim’s family and society for justice.

Shatrughan Chauhan case

The government claimed that the reason for this delay is a series of guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the Shatrughan Chauhan case in 2014. These guidelines had primarily held that unexplained delay in carrying out an execution would lead to commutation of death penalty to life imprisonment. The government called the 2014 verdict “accused-centric” and called for a change to appease the victims and society.

“We (Supreme Court) have always rendered judgments with the victims in our mind. Our decisions are for the victims. It is the law of the land,” Chief Justice S.A. Bobde reacted to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the government.

The three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Bobde questioned the government’s locus standi in filing the application. The CJI said both the review and curative petitions against the Chauhan verdict already stood dismissed.

The court asked how the government could file an application now, seeking to modify or add to the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in 2014 as part of a judgment.

Undaunted, Mr. Mehta repeatedly expressed the government’s concern for victims awaiting justice. He said the government was merely seeking some “additional” guidelines to the ones in the Chauhan verdict to balance the scale.

Finally, the court agreed to issue formal notice, but the CJI clarified in its written order that the court would not entertain any alteration in the conviction or sentence in the Chauhan case.

The Supreme Court had commuted the death penalty of 15 convicts to life sentence in the Chauhan case.

In its application, the government has asked the court to set short deadlines for death row convicts to seek legal remedies . It wants the court to limit the time for filing curative petition. Mercy plea should be filed within a week of issuance of death warrant. If mercy plea has already 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 has been rejected.

The application came in the aftermath of the four Nirbhaya convicts separately and repeatedly approaching the courts for one relief or the other.

Their execution dates were extended from January 22 to February 1.

Also read: Putting a full stop to death sentence

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