Monday, August 12, 2013

Are we carving out separate jurisdiction for death row prisoners, SC asks

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN Aug 9, 2013, 02.56AM IST
NEW DELHI: In a midnight order, the Supreme Court stopped Jabalpur jail authorities hours before they were to take Maganlal to the gallows on Thursday to execute the capital punishment given to him for hacking to death his five daughters, the eldest of whom was just six years, in Madhya Pradesh's Sehore district.
NGO 'People's Union for Democratic Rights' through senior advocate Colin Gonsalves swung into action late on Wednesday evening after the TOI website reported Maganlal's imminent execution in Jabalpur central jail and moved Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam, who held court at his residence close to midnight and ordered the authorities to put the scheduled execution on hold till Thursday.
On Thursday, sitting with Justice Ranjana Desai, Justice Sathasivam extended the stay on Maganlal's execution till further orders after Gonsalves doubted whether authorities had intimated the convict's family about the President's July 22 decision to reject his mercy plea.

Though the apex court has always acted in favour of right to life, a recent spate of petitions filed at the eleventh hour seeking stay of execution after rejection of mercy petitions by the President forced the bench of Justices Sathasivam and Desai to wonder aloud, "Are we creating a separate post-mercy rejection jurisdiction?"

There was a reason for the CJI to express his nuanced thoughts, because death warrants are issued against a condemned prisoner only after he goes through all tiers of judicial remedy - appeal in the high court, then in Supreme Court and following it up with review and curative petitions - to challenge the death sentence imposed on him by the trial court which awards capital sentence after finding the heinous crime fitting into the SC-devised 'rarest of rare' category.

In a similar late evening sitting on April 6 at the residence of Justice Sathasivam, he along with Justice MY Eqbal had stayed the execution of eight persons whose mercy pleas had been rejected. There too, PUDR was the public interest petitioner for the death row prisoners.

During the April 6 hearing, the bench of Justices Sathasivam and Eqbal had said it was entertaining the petition to ascertain whether proper communication had been sent to the relatives of these condemned prisoners whose mercy pleas had been rejected.

"It should not happen as it happened in the Jammu and Kashmir case (Afzal Guru's hanging). The intimation of the execution reached the relatives of the person (Afzal) after his hanging. That is bad. The relatives lost an opportunity to meet the condemned prisoner for one last time before his execution," the bench had said.

Gonsalves picked up the thread from the April 6 hearing and on Thursday argued before the bench of Justices Sathasivam and Desai that "no communication appears to have been sent to the family of Maganlal after the rejection of his mercy plea". The court allowed PUDR's lawyers - Rishabha Sancheti, Yug Mohit Chaudhry and Puja Sharma - to meet the family of the condemned prisoner and ascertain facts.

A trial court had on February 3, 2011, found Maganlal guilty of beheading his daughters Jamuna (1), Phool Kanwar (2), Aarti (4), Savita (5) and Leela (6) with an axe following a dispute over property with his two wives on June 11, 2010. The high court upheld the trial court decision seven months later and the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal on January 9 last year. 

Source: [accessed 12th August 2013]

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