Hanging Fire

India Legal|February 10, 2020

Hanging Fire
There has been a trend among death row convicts to get their execution delayed through appeals and curative petitions. What are the legal loopholes that allow them to prolong their sentences despite the chief justice saying it is extremely important in such cases to have finality?

COURT verdicts, technically, settle the rights and liabilities of all parties in a case. Of late, however, courts are witnessing multiple challenges to all kinds of verdicts. Even death row convicts, believing their sentence to be open-ended, continue to file a variety of pleas in an attempt to escape the gallows.

A rather piquant situation was seen recently when the Supreme Court dismissed the plea of Nirbhaya death row convict Mukesh Kumar who challenged the rejection of his mercy petition by President Ram Nath Kovind. The Court said there was no merit in the contention. “Alleged sufferings in jail can’t be grounds to challenge the rejection of mercy plea by President,” the Court said.

Expeditious disposal of the mercy plea doesn’t mean non-application of mind by the president, said the three-judge bench headed by Justice R Banu mathi. The four death row convicts in the case were slated to be hanged on February 1, but the order was stayed by a Delhi court on January 31. Judge Dharmender Rana did not issue a fresh warrant for their execution. In his order, he said: “Seeing redressal of one’s grievances through procedure established by law is the hallmark of any civilised society. The courts of this country cannot afford to adversely discriminate any convict, including death row convict, in pursuit of his legal remedies, by turning a Nelson’s eye towards him.”

Nirbhaya’s mother, Asha Devi, broke down outside the courtroom and said the courts were destroying the trust that she had reposed in them. “The convicts are taking advantage of the law and delaying their execution.” Incidentally, February 1 was the second date fixed for carrying out the executions. The previous date was January 22.

Meanwhile, another deathrow convict in the Nirb -haya case approached the Supreme Court with a curative petition. This cycle of verdict, appeal, review, curative petition, mercy petition and appeal is a new phenomenon as prisoners attempt to ward off the inevitable execution. This was mentioned even by Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde recently while dismissing a plea filed by a couple, Shabnam and Saleem, from Amroha district in UP, who are on death row for sedating and hacking to death the woman’s family in April 2008. However in 2015, the Court cancelled their execution, saying the magistrate had acted in haste and the convicts were yet to exhaust their legal options.


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February 10, 2020