The Centre on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court to seek “victim-centric” guidelines in cases where the convicts have been given the death penalty, NDTV reported. The government said in its application that the current rules are skewed in favour of the convicts, as they allowed them to “play with the law and delay execution”.
The application urged the Supreme Court to set a seven-day deadline for death-row convicts to file mercy pleas before the president, reported Hindustan Times. The Centre also sought directions for death warrants to be issued within seven days after a mercy petition is rejected, and to hang the convict within seven days after that. Currently, the minimum time between a mercy plea being rejected and a convict’s execution is 14 days.
The government also urged the top court to declare that once a review petition against death penalty is dismissed, the convicts can file a curative petition only within a stipulated time period.
“Once the mercy petition of one of the co-convict is rejected, he knows about his fate,” the Centre’s application said. “However he would still have to wait till the proceedings with respect to other co-convict are pending. It is submitted that there are instances where the death sentence is not executed because the co-convicts either by default or by design choose to file review/curative/mercy petition one after the other, even at a belated stage, causing delay in the execution of the sentence of other co-convicts whose mercy petition has already been rejected.”
The government said: “It is submitted that this dehumanising effect can be removed only by mandating the competent courts and state prisons in the country to issue death warrant within seven days of dismissal of his mercy petition, and to execute the death sentence within seven days thereafter irrespective of the proceedings pending/anticipated with regard to his co-convicts.”
The application sought clarifications and modifications in a Supreme Court order from 2014, in which the court had said even death-row convicts have certain inalienable rights, Live Law reported. The Centre said the judgement was “accused-centric”, and that it was important to “consider laying down guidelines from the point of view of victims, their family and the society as well”.
The petition comes amid a continuing delay in the execution of four convicts in the 2012 Delhi gangrape case. The convicts had been first given the death sentence by a trial court in 2013. The punishment was upheld by the Delhi High Court six months later and by the Supreme Court in May 2017.
However, it took until earlier this month for a court to issue death warrants – but even that had to be postponed because the convicts continued to use the legal options available. One convict filed a mercy plea, which was rejected but delayed the execution. Another claimed in the Supreme Court that he was a juvenile at the time of the crime, but that was also rejected.
The executions are now scheduled for 6 am on February 1. However, the option of mercy plea is still open to three convicts, and two can still file curative petitions.