Review Petitions of death row convicts to be heard in open court

Supreme Court: In a landmark judgment, where the 5 judge bench of R.M. Lodha, CJ and J.S. Khehar, Dr. A.K. Sikri, R.F. Nariman and J. Chelameswar, JJ were called upon to decide the issue relating to hearing of Review Petitions of death row convicts in an open court, the Court, with a 4-1 majority, answered in affirmative. Accepting the argument of K.K. Venugopal that death sentence cases are a distinct category of cases, the Court held that since death penalty is irreversible in nature and that once the death sentence is executed, the convict cannot be brought back to life if it is found later that such sentence was not warranted, a limited oral hearing even at the review stage is mandated by Article 21of the Constitution in all death sentence cases.

According further clarification to it’s decision, the Court said that the right of a limited oral hearing in review petitions where death sentence is given, shall be applicable only in pending review petitions and such petitions filed in future. In cases where review petition has already been dismissed but the death sentence has not been executed so far, the petitioners can apply for the reopening of their review petition within one month from the date of this judgment. However, it was held that in cases where even a curative petition is dismissed, it would not be proper to reopen such matters.

However, Chelameswar, J. giving his dissenting opinion disagreed with 2 out of 3 grounds taken into consideration by the Court to reach it’s majority decision. The minority view on the said issue was the possibility of different judicial minds reaching different conclusions on the same set of facts, as considered by the majority, does not arise since review petitions are normally heard by the same Bench which heard the appeal. Disagreeing with the ground that even a remote chance of deviating from the original decision would justify an oral hearing in a review petition, Chelameswar, J said that the same is equally applicable to all cases of review and cannot be specially made applicable to the death sentence cases. Mohd. Arif v. Supreme Court of India, Writ Petition (Criminal) No.77 of 2014, decided on 02.09.2014

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