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Nirbhaya case convicts execution: Supreme Court allows government to approach trial court for fresh date

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Union government to approach the trial court for issuance of a fresh date for the execution of the death sentence of the Nirbhaya gang rape convicts.

Appearing before a three-judge Bench led by Justice R. Banumathi, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said the Nirbhaya convicts were trying the patience of the nation.

Mr. Mehta made a chilling reference to how policemen who gunned down the four gang rape and murder accused in Hyderabad were cheered by people, calling the incident a symptom of people losing faith in the process of law.

“This case [Nirbhaya] is of 2012 and I am still struggling to execute the death sentence. They [convicts] are acting in tandem to misuse the law by filing one petition after the other… People will stop having faith in the judicial system. Seven years have gone by and the convicts are still playing the judicial system… It is in situations like this that people celebrate encounter killings,” Mr. Mehta submitted.

The hearing began with Justice Ashok Bhushan observing that the Delhi High Court’s seven-day deadline for the four convicts to exhaust their remedies was over. The government could very well go ahead and seek a fresh date for carrying out the executions.

“If nothing is pending, you can go back to the trial court and ask for issuance of a new date. Their petitions for review, curative and mercy petition have been dismissed… What is left now? What prevents you from going to the trial court?” Justice Bhushan asked Mr. Mehta.

The Solicitor General said convicts Mukesh, Vinay and Akshay have seemingly exhausted remedies. The fourth, Pawan Gupta, is yet to file a mercy petition.

Mr. Mehta said a plea to fix a new date for the executions in the trial court would immediately see one or the other of the four convicts move court in a bid to further prolong the process. As indicated, within a few hours of the hearing, Vinay moved the Supreme Court challenging the rejection of his mercy petition by the President.

Mr. Mehta stressed that the apex court should instead focus on the government’s appeal to allow the four convicts to be separately executed. The court issued notice to the four convicts on this point and scheduled a hearing for February 13.

The government has argued in the apex court that under the Delhi Prison Rules of 2018, the pendency of legal remedies or mercy petitions of other co-convicts would have no bearing on the fate of a convict whose plea for mercy had been rejected. It said the Rules did not prohibit the execution of the death sentence of co-convicts, one by one, on the rejection of their respective mercy petitions.

Deferring the execution of the death sentence of all the four convicts had led to “gross miscarriage of justice” to the victim’s family as well as society as a whole, the government contended.

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