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Will convicts be hanged on Mar 3 or more delays expected?

Will convicts be hanged on Mar 3 or more delays expected?

New Delhi: With fresh death warrants issued for the Nirbhaya convicts, questions still loom large over whether the four convicted in the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder case will indeed be executed on March 3.

While all the four convicts were sentenced to death in September 2013, their execution has been delayed time and again due to several legally ambiguous points that have not yet been decided by the judiciary. Public discourse has seen heated debates about whether the legal system needs to be changed to facilitate faster execution of death row convicts and whether the Nirbhaya convicts are 'deliberately' using the law to continue delaying their hanging.

Amid this of course, there is an argument being made as to why the rush to hang the Nirbhaya convicts and not other death row convicts.

The legal remedies

Once the trial court sentenced Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Singh and Pawan Gupta to death in 2013, the convicts had six levels of appeal to overturn their sentence. As per procedure, the first step is to approach the high court, which the convicts did by moving the Delhi High Court, which upheld the trial court ruling. The second is to approach the Supreme Court challenging the high court order, which was also exercised by the convicts and the top court in 2017 also upheld the death sentence.

The third step in the process involves filing a review petition in the Apex court, seeking a review of an order passed by it. Review petitions are usually considered in-chambers and the Nirbhaya convicts' review plea was also rejected.

Moving on, the convicts in the case now have three legal options remaining which involves filing a curative petition before the SC, filing a Mercy petition before the President and then challenging the mercy plea rejection, if it is, in fact, rejected. As for the Nirbhaya case, convicts Mukesh Singh, Akshay Singh and Vinay Sharma have filed curative petitions and mercy pleas, which have been rejected. In fact, as recently as February 11, Vinay Sharma had filed a writ petition, challenging the President's rejection of his mercy plea, which was also dismissed by the top court, leaving only Pawan Gupta, who is yet to file his curative and mercy pleas.

What next?

The continued delays in the execution have been largely due to two separate judgements that set precedents for executing death row convicts. The Harbans Singh V State of UP and Ors judgement from 1982 says that convicts in the same case cannot be hanged separately, which is reflected in the Delhi jail manual and has been challenged by the Centre that has sought separate execution of the Nirbhaya convicts. The other is the Shatrughan Chauhan V Union of India judgement from 2014 which sets precedent, mandating a compulsory 14-day cushion between the date of issuing death warrants to the date of hanging.

The problem, however, crops up with the matter of filing curative petitions. Since there is no precedent that puts a clock on the time to file such pleas, Tihar Jail authorities have to wait till the convicts have exhausted this option. For example, if now, Pawan Gupta fails to file his curative plea before March 3, the execution will likely be stayed citing one of the convicts was yet to exhaust all his legal remedies. As a result, jail authorities will have to seek fresh death warrants, after which a 14-day period will again be granted. And of course, doubt over whether the convicts can be hanged separately remains, without a solution to which the process will keep repeating itself.

However, another option would be for jail authorities to file a plea arguing that convicts do not seem to be interested in using all legal options.

Despite the uncertain road ahead, Gupta's lawyers told the court on Monday that his client is willing to file curative and mercy pleas, which would mean that even with delays, the execution might just be done by the end of March.

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