Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on Thursday said the Supreme Court should focus on the rights of the victims and not just those of the accused, a day after the Centre moved the top court to seek “victim-centric” guidelines in death-row cases, Hindustan Times reported.

Bobde made the observations while hearing a petition filed by a couple from Amroha district in Uttar Pradesh who are on death row. They were sentenced to death for sedating the woman’s family and hacking them to death in April 2008. However, in 2015, the top court cancelled their execution warrant on grounds that the magistrate had acted in haste and the convicts were yet to exhaust their legal options.

At the start of the hearing, the chief justice said it was extremely important for the death sentence to have some finality. He said a death-row convict should not feel that the sentence can be questioned all the time, adding that “one cannot go on fighting endlessly”.

“We don’t want to focus or emphasise only on rights of accused in a case in which seven people, including a 10-month-old baby have been murdered,” Bobde said.

The chief justice said it was difficult to accept if the degree of reform undergone by a convict should be considered as a mitigating factor, IANS reported. “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 said if convicts start claiming they had reformed, death penalties will not be carried out. “The convicts will say we have reformed and we can come out,” the judges added.

On Wednesday, the government had said in its application that the current rules were skewed in favour of convicts, allowing them to “play with the law and delay execution”. The Centre also urged the Supreme Court to set a seven-day deadline for death-row convicts to file mercy pleas before the president. At present, the minimum time between the rejection of a mercy plea and a convict’s execution is 14 days.

The petition was filed amid a continuing delay in the execution of four convicts in the 2012 Delhi gangrape case. The convicts were given the death sentence by a trial court in 2013. The punishment was upheld by the Delhi High Court six months later, and the Supreme Court in May 2017.

However, death warrants were issued only earlier this month – but even that had to be postponed because the convicts continued to use their legal options. One convict filed a mercy plea, which was rejected. But it delayed the execution. Another claimed in the Supreme Court that he was a juvenile at the time of the crime, but that petition was also dismissed.

The executions are now scheduled for 6 am on February 1. However, the option of mercy plea is still open to three of the convicts, and two can still file curative petitions.