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.