In a significant development, the Supreme Court on Friday said it would hear afresh the aspect of awarding death penalty to four convicts in the sensational December 16, 2012 gang rape and murder case.
A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra prima facie agreed with the contention of senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, who is assisting it as the amicus curiae, that the provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, relating to sentencing of convicts, has not been followed in letter and spirit by the trial court in the case.
It was submitted that section 235 of the CrPC provides that an accused, in the event of conviction, would be heard by on the question of sentencing individually before the trial judge passes the order awarding punishment.
The bench, also comprising justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, then mulled ways to rectify the apparent error and said there are two modes: either the case be remanded back to the trial court to pass a fresh order on sentence or the apex court itself hears this aspect of the matter afresh.
The bench then said, “We think the second mode is more appropriate. We would like to give opportunity to accused persons to file affidavits along with documents stating mitigating circumstances.”
It then permitted M L Sharma and A P Singh, lawyers representing the convicts, to visit the condemned prisoners in Tihar jail here to apprise them about Friday’s order so as to enable them to file affidavits detailing mitigating circumstances in their favour.
The court, which said the convicts are required to file affidavits by February 23, decided to keep hearing the appeals on the substantial issue of conviction in the matter.
It will decide the future date for hearing afresh the arguments on sentencing on February 6.
The 23-year-old paramedic was brutally assaulted and gang-raped by six persons in a moving bus in south Delhi and thrown out of the vehicle with her male friend on the night of December 16, 2012. She had died in a Singapore hospital on December 29.
The trial court had awarded death penalty to convicts, Mukesh, Pawan, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Kumar Singh. While the fifth, and one of the key accused, Ram Singh allegedly committed suicide inside jail during the trial. Earlier also, the court had asked the convicts to file their responses detailing mitigating circumstances favouring them on the issue of sentencing.
Besides senior advocate Ramachandran, another senior lawyer Sanjay Hegde is also assisting the court as amicus curiae in the matter.
While Ramachandran is assisting the court in appeals of convicts Mukesh and Pawan, Hegde is assisting in appeals of other two convicts, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Kumar Singh.
Ramachandran had said that the trial court and the high court were ‘so overwhelmed by the nature of the crime’ that they did not follow the proper procedure for sentencing the accused in the instant case.
He had submitted that the courts below did not consider the mitigating circumstances of individual accused in the case.
These four convicts had approached the apex court against the Delhi high court’s March 13, 2014 verdict which had observed that their offence fell in the rarest of rare category and had upheld the death sentence awarded to them by the trial court.
The prime accused, Ram Singh, was found dead in a cell in Tihar Jail in March 2013 and proceedings against him were abated.