Death penalty convicts may be heard in open Court: SC

Supreme Court while hearing writ petitions seeking the Court to address the question as to whether review of death penalty awarded in rarest of rare cases should continue to be done in the privacy of the Judges’ chambers or transparently in open court ruled that reviewing its own decisions on death row prisoners in an open court is a fundamental right.

A Five-Judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in a majority judgment, decided that review of death sentence cases will be heard in open court by a Bench of three judges. The Bench led by Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha, in a 4:1 majority judgment, directed that death row convicts whose death penalty have been reviewed by a Bench of less than three judges can move the Supreme Court in one month to re-open their review petitions. However, court was of the opinion that, in those cases, where the curative petition has already been decided, the death row convict will not have this opportunity to avail the same.

The judgment was based on a batch of identical writ petitions filed by eight death row convicts, of which three in the 2000 Dharmapuri bus burning case, Pakistani national Mohammed Arif alias Ashfaq in the Red Fort Attack case of 2000, 1993 Bombay serial blasts ‘mastermind’ Yakub Memon and B.A. Umesh and Sunder, both convicted in multiple murders.

Usually death penalty matters were heard by Two-Judge Benches. The 2013 Rules extend to pending death penalty-related cases also. It says any pending death sentence matters in which a Bench of less than three judges is of the opinion that the accused deserves death, the matter concerned will be referred to the Chief Justice of India, who will in turn constitute a Three-Judge Bench to hear it.

SC refused to disqualify Ministers with criminal cases

The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition on whether cabinet ministers with criminal cases can continue in the government. A five judge Constitution bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, RM Lodha, while delivering its verdict this morning, said it would leave the decision to keep or sack ministers to the Prime Minister.

The Central Government has argued that removing ministers is against the Constitutional prerogative of Parliament and the will of the people, and that “once a person is an MP, he is entitled to be in the council of ministers, if the Prime Minister decides.”

Observing that it cannot add disqualification in article 75(1) (on appointment of PM and council of ministers), the bench, however, cautioned the PM and CMs against considering people with criminal antecedents, and against whom charges have been framed in serious offences, including corruption, for appointment as ministers.

While the SC has dismissed the petition, two judges out of the five judge constitutional panel struck a dissenting note. They were of the opinion that, PM and CMs should not include people with criminal antecedents in their cabinet, but the decision rests with them. Majority verdict was that the decision should rest with the Prime Minister. The concurring judgment was given by three of the five judges. Supreme Court says it expects CMs and the PM not to appoint netas with criminal backgrounds. “The PM should decide if those with criminal background should stay in the cabinet, the SC said.”

Refusing to disqualify tainted netas, the Supreme Court further said that, “No disqualification can be prescribed. It is expected that the PM will not appoint persons against whom charges have been framed and he is facing trial. The PM and Chief Ministers should decide.”

Court while accepting the argument, it was observed that, “Constitution reposes immense trust in the PM and Chief Ministers and they are expected to act with responsibility and with constitutional morality.”

Read Full Judgement here