Why gallows? Explain it to convicts: SC

New Delhi

Appeals against death penalty can be dismissed by the Supreme Court in limine (at the very preliminary stage) only after assigning reasons for the decision, the apex court has held.

“Special leave petitions filed in cases where death sentence is awarded by the courts below, should not be dismissed without giving reasons, at least qua death sentence,” a three-judge Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri, Ashok Bhushan and Indira Banerjee observed in a recent judgment.

The Bench said the apex court should provide the convict reasons for affirming his death sentence even if the apex court dismisses his appeal in limine, after concluding that his conviction by the lower courts have been based on evidence which is “impeccable, trustworthy, credible and proves the guilt of the accused beyond a shadow of doubt.”

“It should be by a reasoned order on the aspect of sentence, at least,” the Supreme Court observed.

The Bench’s decision came in a review petition filed by Babasheb Maruti Kamble who was condemned to the gallows for murder.

The trial court in Maharashtra awarded him death penalty in September 2013, following which he had appealed in the Bombay High Court. The High Court confirmed the death sentence in July 2014. Kamble finally moved the Supreme Court. On January 6, 2015, the apex court dismissed his appeal in a two-line order which said “Delay condoned. Dismissed.”

The Review Bench agreed with the point raised by Kamble’s counsel and senior advocate Shekhar Naphade that “where conviction is followed by death sentence, and the special leave petition is filed against it, it should not be dismissed in limine and in case the Supreme Court still finds it fit to do so, some reasons need to be recorded.”

The Bench said the case before the apex court is one of life and death. The need for a reasoned order is all the greater. “When death sentence is rare, this court has emphasised time and again that there has to be an independent examination by this court also, ‘unbound by the findings of the trial court and the High Court.’ Such an approach is the ‘time-honoured practice of this court’,” the Bench observed.

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