The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the plea of Yakub Razzak Memon, a death-row convict in the 1993 Bombay serial blasts case, to convert his death penalty into life imprisonment. SC, however, ruled that the review petitions of such convicts will be heard in open court by a three-judge bench.
So far, a two-judge bench had been hearing the convict's appeal and review pleas, deciding on them in chamber.
The court rejected Memon's argument that he has been in jail for the past 20 years, longer than the 14-year term awarded in cases of life imprisonment, and that death would be a "harsher punishment".
A constitution bench headed by chief justice of India RM Lodha expanded the scope of Article 21 (right to life) in cases of death convicts, and said, "We feel that if the fundamental right to life is involved, any procedure to be just, fair, and reasonable should take into account the two factors mentioned above. That being so, we feel that a limited oral hearing even at the review stage is mandated by Article 21 in all death sentence cases."
In a majority verdict, the bench accepted amicus curiae Sidharth Luthra's submission that convict's oral submission should be allowed in the review plea.
"Henceforth, in all cases in which death sentence has been awarded by the high court in appeals pending before the Supreme Court, only a bench of three judges will hear the same," the bench, also comprising justices Jagdish S Khehar, AK Sikri, and Rohington F Nariman said, rejecting a submission that a minimum of five judges should hear all death sentence cases.
The court made it clear that the judgment will apply to all cases of death convictions pending review pleas, and, for those cases where review has been dismissed but execution has not taken place, the convict can approach the court within a month of the judgment. It, however, added that proceedings can't now be opened in those cases where curative petitions have been dismissed.
Memon's lawyer said his client has not filed the curative petition in the apex court so far, and now he can move an application for re-hearing of his review plea within a month.
The apex court passed the order on a batch of petitions filed by six death-row convicts, including Red Fort attack case convict Mohammed Arif, pleading the court that their review pleas be decided in open court hearings by a five-judge bench.