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Home / India News / Govt to SC: Set time limit for death-row convicts’ pleas

Govt to SC: Set time limit for death-row convicts’ pleas

india Updated: Jan 22, 2020 23:45 IST
Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan
Hindustantimes

The central government on Wednesday approached the Supreme Court seeking a direction on the timelines and process for death-row convicts to use mercy and curative petitions in a move that comes against the backdrop of the death-row convicts in the December 2012 gang-rape and murder case using the garb of due process to delay their executions.

The government, in its petition urged the court to adopt a victim-centric approach in heinous crimes so that faith of the public in judicial process is not shaken.

The delay in carrying out the death warrant of the four convicts in the 2012 case has been widely criticised. The mother of the victim has been especially critical of the process.

The application filed by the central government seeks modifications and clarifications in furtherance of a 2014 judgment of the top court in the Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India which had laid down guidelines for safeguarding the interest of death-row convicts.

The government, in its plea, asked the court to impose a time limit within which a death-row convict has to file a curative petition after his review petition is rejected.

The plea also asked the court to issue a direction that a death-row convict should file a mercy petition within seven days from the date of receipt of death warrant issued by a competent court.

Moreover, it has sought directions to be issued to all states, jail authorities and competent courts to issue death warrants within seven days of rejection of mercy plea and to execute convicts within seven days of issuing the death warrant irrespective of the stage of review, curative or mercy petitions of co-convicts. In the December 2012 case, there are four death-row convicts, and they have chosen to file their various petitions in a phased manner -- every petition by a convict is filed only after the one filed by another is rejected -- causing a delay in the process. The death warrant issued by a Delhi court initially set the date of execution as January 22. This was subsequently made February 1 by the same court.

The delay has also become a political issue with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power in the Centre and the Aam Aadmi Party, which governs Delhi trading charges. Elections in Delhi are to be held on February 8.

The redressal mechanism has been used to defer death sentences, senior officials in the government said, citing the Delhi gang rape and murder case. “The changes sought don’t intend to take away the redressal mechanism; they aim to prevent misuse. Also, this move is in sync with a larger move of the government to revamp the IPC [Indian Penal Code] and CrPC [the Code of Criminal Procedure], and bring in a more responsive criminal jurisprudence,” one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.

The Shatrughan Chauhan judgment of the apex court laid down guidelines relating to the procedure of placing mercy petitions before the President. It also mandated that rejection of mercy petitions by the Governor or the President should be communicated to the convict. Further, the judgment prescribed a period of 14 days between the receipt of communication of the rejection of the mercy petition and the scheduled date of execution.

The court also said in that judgment that the Supreme Court could step in to commute a death sentence if it believes that there was undue delay by the Governor or the President in deciding on mercy petitions.

However, the judgment was silent on many aspects including the time-frame for filing curative and mercy petitions.

The central government’s plea pointed out that in case of multiple convicts awaiting death sentence for the same offence, the fact that one of the convicts had not availed a remedy of review, curative or mercy petition was resulting in a delay in the hanging the other convicts. This, it argued, is because, though the jail manuals or prison rules do not prohibit the execution of death sentence co-convicts one at a time, some states follow the practice of executing all co-convicts simultaneously.

The plea by centre submitted that convicts who have been sentenced for heinous crimes take judicial process for a ride under the garb of Article 21 (which deals with life and personal liberty) and it is time the Supreme court stepped in to redress the grievances of the victims and their families so that their faith in judicial process is reinforced.

“It is high time that this Hon’ble Court, in its inherent jurisdiction as custodial of fundamental rights of every citizen redresses the grievances of the victims, their family and that of the society whose conscience gets shaken as a result of such horrific offences and reinforces their faith in the judicial process”, the plea stated.

“They are asking for substantive modifications of the Shatrughan Chauhan judgment. If there are some minor practical issues then a modification application can be filed. But these are very substantive disagreements. I don’t see how a substantive issue can be raised in a disposed of case by way of a modification application. An application cannot be filed for modification or clarification seeking substantive changes to a judgment. A modification or clarification application cannot be a garb to seek a review of its judgment. This has been laid down by the Supreme Court itself. The proper course of action would be to wait for an appropriate case to come and raise these issues in that case”, said Dr. Anup Surendranath, Assistant Professor at National Law University Delhi and Executive Director at Project 39A.