While hearing a plea to commute the death sentence of two convicts for killing a family of seven, the Supreme Court Thursday underlined that the “finality” of death sentence is extremely important and said that condemned prisoners should not be under the impression that the death penalty remains “open ended” and can be challenged all the time by them.
“One cannot go on fighting endlessly for everything,” the Chief Justice S A Bobde-led bench was quoted as saying by PTI.
The bench, which also comprised justices S A Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, further said that punishment awarded to convicts are for their crimes and added “if one goes by innocence of a human being, even the worst criminal has an innocent heart.”
The court’s observation on death penalty comes at a time when execution of the convicts of the 2012 Delhi gangrape case has been delayed with the convicts seeking last available legal remedies. The convicts were sentenced to death in September 2013. This was upheld by the High Court in March 2014 and by the Supreme Court in May 2017. A Delhi court has now fixed February 1 as the fresh date for the execution.
The top court reserved its verdict on a plea seeking review of death penalty it awarded to a woman and her lover for killing her parents, two brothers and their wives and strangulating her 10-month-old nephew in Uttar Pradesh. The plea was vehemently opposed by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. “A convict cannot seek mercy after killing his parents that oh ho, now I have become an orphan,” said Mehta, who appeared for the UP Government.
The court asked lawyers Anand Grover and Meenakshi Arora, appearing for the convicts, whether “good behaviour” of convicts post their conviction is reason enough for commuting their sentence. “I thought it is the crime that is punished. If one goes by innocence of a human being, even the worst criminal has an innocent heart. There is no one who is a criminal at the deepest level,” CJI Bobde observed.
CJI SA Bobde in a death sentence review: I thought it is the crime that is punished. If one goes by innocence of a human being, even the worst criminal has an innocent heart. There is no one who is a criminal at the depest level @IndianExpress
— Ananthakrishnan G (@axidentaljourno) January 23, 2020
When Arora cited reports on how the convict, a woman, has reformed in prison and spoke of forgiveness, the CJI responded saying he has to do justice “on behalf of the victim, society.”
“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 the society. Imagine a situation when a judge tells a murderer ‘oh yes, I forgive you!’. Imagine the impact,” the court said.
“We do not like to emphasise only on the life and death penalty of an accused, especially when lives of seven people have been snuffed out in the present case,” the bench said, adding “The most important thing that we consider is sentencing should be proportionate to the crime.”
The bench was told by the lawyers for the convicts that they belong to a poor and uneducated background and moreover, they were first time criminals and hence be given an opportunity to reform.
The matter pertains to a murder case from 2008 in the state of UP. Saleem and Shabnam wanted to get married but their relationship met with stiff opposition from the woman’s family.On April 15, 2008, Shabnam’s entire family was wiped out and the woman initially pretended that her house in Amroha district of UP was attacked by unidentified assailants.
It came to light during the investigation that she had abetted Saleem in the crime as she made her family members drink milk laced with sedatives before the attack and thereafter herself throttled her little nephew. The apex court had upheld their death sentence in 2015. In 2010, the Allahabad High Court had upheld the death sentence awarded to the duo by a sessions court.
The Centre on Wednesday moved an application before the Supreme Court, seeking to modify “convict-centric” guidelines in death penalty cases and to make them “victim-centric”. The government also asked the SC to introduce a seven-day deadline for death row convicts to file mercy petitions besides introducing a time limit for filing of review and curative petitions in such cases.
(Inputs from PTI)
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines