SC agrees to examine Centre's plea for victim-centric guidelines in death penalty cases

New Delhi, Jan 31 (PTI) The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine the Centre's plea for laying down victim and society-centric guidelines in heinous offence cases where death penalty has been awarded.

The Centre had on January 22 moved an application contending that the prevalent guidelines framed by the apex court are only accused and convict-centric.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde sought responses from various stakeholders on whose petition the Supreme Court in 2014 had laid down guidelines relating to the execution of death row convicts.

The guidelines were laid down in Shatrughan Chauhan versus Union of India case in 2014.

The bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, made it clear that the issue of conviction and sentence connected with the Shatrughan Chauhan case would not be altered while dealing with the Centre's plea.

The bench issued notice to the respondents who were named as respondent party in the Shatrughan Chauhan matter.

'Issue notice.Considering the prayer for victim centric and society centric guidelines. This court will not consider any prayer to alter the conviction and sentence in the case,' it said.

At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre said the Union of India has filed an application seeking laying of guidelines which are victim and society-centric in death penalty cases.

He said the top court had in 2014 case of Shatrughan Chauhan versus Union of India laid down guidelines that were accused-centric in death penalty cases.

Mehta said that death penalty is awarded in cases which shake the collective conscience of the court and therefore the Union of India urge the court to lay down the guidelines which victim and society-centric like there is no stipulated time as by when a death row convict can be executed.

The bench said that the Shatrughan Chauhan case has attained finality as both review and curative petitions have been dismissed.

It suggested that the Centre could have filed the application in a pending case rather in a case which had attained finality.

Mehta conceded the fact and said that he has also mentioned the status of the matter in the petition but an application by the Centre has been filed in the Shatrughan Chauhan case as the top court had laid down the guidelines in this case only.

'I am seeking something which is in furtherance of the already laid down guidelines by the apex court, which is victim centric and society-centric,' he said.

The bench, however, said that the top court had in several cases laid down law which is victim and society-centric.

Mehta persisted with his arguments saying, 'There is no time limit for availing the legal and constitutional remedies available to a death row convict. The court should now take into account the interest of victim and society and lay down the guidelines which are in furtherance of the already laid down guidelines for the accused.' The bench then said that notice needs to be issued to the parties involved in the Shatrughan Chauhan case and there response has to be looked into. On January 22, the Centre had moved the apex court observing that heinous crime convicts are taking the 'judicial process for a ride' and urged the court for fixing a seven-day deadline for execution of condemned prisoners after issuance of black warrant, amid the delay in the hanging of the four death row convicts in the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape-murder case.

Fresh death warrants had been issued by a Delhi court on January 17 for the hanging of Vinay Sharma (26), Akshay Kumar Singh (31), Mukesh Kumar Singh (32) and Pawan (26) on February 1 after their hanging scheduled in the Tihar Jail on January 22 was postponed due to pending petitions.

The hanging has been delayed due to filing of review, curative and mercy petitions over a period of several months, prolonging the agony of Nirbhaya's parents and other family members.

Stressing that the 'need of the hour' was to lay down guidelines in 'the interest of the victims' rather than keeping the rights of the convicts in mind, the Centre had said those punished for 'horrible, dreadful, cruel, abominable, ghastly, gruesome and heinous offences' like rape and murder should not be permitted to play with the 'majesty of law' and prolong the execution of the sentence awarded to them.

The Centre in its plea has submitted this was necessary in the larger interest of public and of the victims and their families.

Seeking modifications of directions issued in 2014 in the Shatrughan Chauhan case, it has said, 'All the guidelines provided...are accused-centric. These guidelines, however, do not take into account an irreparable mental trauma, agony, upheaval and derangement of the victims and their family members, the collective conscience of the nation and the deterrent effect which the capital punishment intends to make.' The Centre contended that it has been found several years before and after the 2014 judgment, the convicts of heinous crimes under the garb of Article 21 (right to life) take 'the judicial process for a ride'. PTI MNL RKS ABA MNL KJ KJ