Chief Justice of India S A Bobde Thursday said the “finality” of death sentence is important and a condemned prisoner should not think that sentencing remains “open-ended”, and can be challenged whenever one wishes.
He was heading a three judge-bench which was hearing a review petition filed by two convicts, Shabnam and her lover Saleem, handed the death sentence in Uttar Pradesh for killing seven of her family members who opposed their relationship.
The remarks come at a time when convicts in the December 16, 2012 gangrape-and-murder case have been filing petitions one after another to delay their execution ordered by a Delhi court.
Read | The human face of law
Appearing for Shabnam, senior advocate Meenakshi Arora referred to reports that she had reformed while in prison and said this could be a mitigating circumstance. Stating that her client was a first-time criminal, Arora told the bench, also comprising Justices S A Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, that a heinous crime is different from the criminal.
At this, the CJI said: “If one goes by the 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.” He said this is why the court punishes the crime and not the individual.
On her reformation in prison, the CJI wondered if that was enough after committing such a heinous crime. He said it was not the judge, but the law that dealt with a criminal.
“When a court is dealing with a crime, a judge cannot forgive because he is doing justice on behalf of the victim, the society… The most important thing to be considered in sentencing is that it should be proportionate to the crime,” he said.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Uttar Pradesh government, opposed the plea for reprieve, saying there will be no death penalty if such an argument is accepted. He said one cannot kill parents and then claim mercy saying he is an orphan now.
Shabnam and Saleem were found guilty of killing her parents, two brothers and their wives and her 10-month-old nephew in Uttar Pradesh in 2008. In 2015, the Supreme Court had upheld the Allahabad High Court judgment which confirmed the death penalty awarded to them.
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