Death sentence cannot remain open-ended, says Supreme Court
New Delhi, January 23, 2020
The Supreme Court on Thursday said the finality of death sentence is extremely important and a convict should not be under the impression, as recent events indicate, that it remains open-ended, which leads to its questioning.
This observation from the top court is bound to have significance in cases where convicts have been sentenced to death, including the four death row convicts in Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case.
It came as the SC heard the review petitions by Shabnam and Salim sentenced to death for murdering her father and six other family members, including a 10-month-old infant, for opposing the couple's relationship.
A bench, headed by Chief Justice S. A. Bobde and comprising Justices S. A. Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna, said it is believed that every criminal is said to have an innocent heart. However, the court has to look into the crime also as they heard the pleas of the convicts' counsel for a relook at the sentence, as they have reformed positively after their conviction.
The Chief Justice said it is difficult to accept the degree of reform introduced in their behaviour should be considered as a mitigating factor in this case. "This argument will have consequences beyond this case," he said.
"We are doing justice on behalf of the society and the victims. We cannot forgive a convict who has been convicted because there is a law, which deals with a criminal."
The court observed that if such an argument -- on taking into consideration the reformation of the convicts after conviction -- is accepted, then no death penalty can be carried out. "The convicts will say we have reformed and we can come out," it said.
The Chief Justice also made strong observation on protecting victims' rights.
"We don't want to focus or emphasise only on rights of accused in a case where seven people including a 10-month-old baby was murdered," he said.
"Can a death row convict, once he mends his ways and reforms after conviction be spared the execution of the sentence," asked the court, reserving the order on the review petition filed by the two convicts.