Years spent behind bars during prolonged judicial proceedings cannot be a ground for converting death sentence to life imprisonment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said while ruling that review plea of condemned prisoners must be given an open court hearing.
A five-judge Constitution bench, by a majority verdict of four to one, held that “limited” oral hearing for an outer limit of 30 minutes be granted in all death sentence cases.
“Delay in judicial proceedings during time taken in court proceedings cannot be taken into account to say that there is a delay which would convert a death sentence into one for life,” the apex court said while dismissing the plea of Red Fort attack death convict Mohd Arif who is in jail for the last 13-and-a-half years.
While Chief Justice
RM Lodha and justices JS Khehar, AK Sikri and Rohinton Nariman favoured open court hearing of review petition in death sentence, Justice J Chelameswar gave a dissenting verdict. “Death penalty is irreversible in nature. Once a death sentence is executed, that results in taking away the life of the convict. If it is found thereafter that such a sentence was not warranted, that would be of no use as the life of that person cannot be brought back.
“This being so, we feel that if the fundamental right to life is involved, any procedure to be just, fair and reasonable should take into account the two factors mentioned above. That being so, we feel that a limited oral hearing even at the review stage is mandated by Article 21 in all death sentence cases,” Justice Nariman, who wrote majority verdict, said.