The execution of death row convicts cannot be carried out in an arbitrary, hurried and secretive manner as the prisoners also have the right to dignity, ruled the Supreme Court and stated that all legal remedies must be explored before carrying out the death sentence as a last resort.
A SC bench of justices A.K. Sikri and U.U. Lalit quashed the execution warrants of a young woman and her lover who were convicted for killing seven members of her family including a 10-month-old baby in Uttar Pradesh in 2008. In its landmark verdict, the bench said the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution does not end with the confirmation of death sentence. “Even in cases of death row convicts, their right to dignity must be protected, the judges said.
The court’s ruling assumes significance in the context of the uproar raised by human rights activists after Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was hanged in the Tihar jail in 2013 and his family members were kept in the dark, but only informed after the execution.
On the UP couple Shabnam and Saleem, the bench pointed out the death warrant was signed by the sessions judge in haste without giving an opportunity for the convicts to explore all legal remedies.
Further, the bench said the convicts are free to file a review petition before the SC and also seek mercy from the President or Governor to commute their death sentence.
The Supreme Court bench said the principles of natural justice must be followed and sufficient notice given to the convict before the issuance of death warrant to enable him or her to pursue legal recourse and have a final meeting with family members before execution. In cases where a convict is not in a position to get legal assistance, legal aid must be provided, it said.
The SC judges were surprised on the needless haste with which the Amroha court issued execution warrants, just six days after the Supreme Court awarded death sentence to the couple on May 15 for killing the woman’s entire family — parents, two brothers, sister-in-law and two minors – to remove opposition to their affair and also grab family property.
The apex court said the sessions court issued the execution warrant without waiting for the mandatory 30 days to allow death row convicts to avail judicial remedy of filing petitions for a review.