Make victim & society-centric guidelines in death penalty cases: Centre to SC

New Delhi: At a time when the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case are making last-ditch attempts to delay hanging, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta contended before the Supreme Court on Friday that “it is every essential to lay down guidelines which are victim and society-centric in death penalty cases, and not accused-centric.”

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant was hearing a plea of Ministry of Home Affairs pleading for plugging loopholes in the guidelines in death penalty cases. The petition seeks execution of the accused be completed within 14 days of the mercy plea’s rejection.

On January 22, the Centre had moved an application contending there is no stipulated time for the execution of a convict on death row.

Mehta contended the death penalty is handed down in cases which shake the collective conscience of the court.

“Therefore, it is essential to lay down guidelines which are victim and society-centric. Currently the guidelines are more accused-centric”, submitted Mehta before the court citing a 2014 case of Shatrughan Chauhan versus Union of India, where guidelines laid down were accused-centric in the death penalty cases.

The Chief Justice asked: “What is the nature of guidelines you want?”

Mehta said, “I am seeking something which is in furtherance of the already laid down guidelines by the top court.”

The court clarified that it will not alter the conviction and the sentence in association with the Shatrughan Chauhan case while hearing the Centre’s plea. The top court in 2014 had laid down certain guidelines in this case.

“We have the victim’s suffering in mind. We have already laid down the law”, said the court.

Mehta replied, “There is no time limit on availing legal and constitutional remedies to a convict on a death row.”

The bench then issued notices to the parties involved in the Shatrughan Chauhan case and agreed to examine their response.

Facing the heat for procedural delay in the execution of death sentence of four convicts in Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Friday moved the Supreme Court seeking modification of its January 2014 judgement, which did not specify deadline for availing legal remedies. MHA said the convicts, in heinous crimes, under the garb of Article 21 take the judicial process for a ride.

The application seeks the top court’s nod for fixing a time limit for convicts on death row to file a curative petition and that the mercy petition should be filed within 7 days of the death warrant; and execution within 14 days after the mercy plea is rejected.

The MHA in its application submitted before the top court that while taking care of the rights of the convicts, “it is the need of the hour to lay down guidelines in the interest of the victims, their families and in larger public interest, lest the convicts found to be guilty of such horrible offences would be permitted to play with the majesty of law and prolong the execution of the sentence awarded to them in accordance with the law.”

The MHA contends that the judicial system conducts elaborate scrutiny, through a phased legal process, with respect to the execution of the death sentence.

The Supreme Court through a common judgment and order on January 21, 2014 (Shatrughan Chauhan) and other connected matters, filed either by the convicts awarded the death sentence or by their family members or by others like People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), laid down certain guidelines on the procedure to be followed for filing mercy petitions and the execution of the death sentence, keeping in account the interest of the convicts.

(IANS)

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