From next week, appeals by death row convicts seeking a stay on their execution will only be heard by a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court. Till now, such appeals were heard by two-judge Benches.
Acknowledging the gravity of the subject, an SC committee suggested the changes in rules and the recommendations were accepted by a full court, which comprises all judges of the SC.
Chief Justice of India R M Lodha informed about the change in SC rules as he led a constitution Bench, hearing a bunch of appeals by some death row convicts, including Yakub Memon, who was held guilty in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, and Ashfaq, who was convicted in the Red Fort attack case.
“We have changed the concerned rules. Now, only a three-judge Bench will hear all death sentence appeals,” the CJI said.
He said the amended rules had obtained the assent of the President as well and a notification would be issued soon. “It will be effective from August 16,’’ the CJI said.
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The 187th report of the law commission, 2003, had also suggested that death penalty-related cases in SC should be heard by a Bench of five judges. As an alternative, the commission had said, at least three judges should be assigned to hear such appeals. However, Order XL of the Supreme Court Rules, 1966, makes no exception for death sentence cases, which were being heard by two-judge Benches as well.
A criminal writ petition on the issue is already pending in court where the petitioner G Sundarrajan asked for larger Benches to decide such cases. The petitioner also wants review petitions by death row convicts to be heard in open court and not in the judges’ chambers.