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Delhi gang-rape case: Apex Court stays death sentence of two convicts

Apoorva Mandhani
14 July 2014 2:18 PM GMT
Delhi gang-rape case: Apex Court stays death sentence of two convicts
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A Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice N.V. Ramana today  stayed the execution of death sentence of Akshay and Vinay Sharma, two of the four convicted in the December 16 gang-rape and murder incident, as it extended its March 15 order blocking execution of the death sentence of the two other convicts - Mukesh and Pawan Gupta - in the same case.

The execution of their death sentence was suspended by an interim order of the bench of Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh at a special sitting of the court. The accused, Mukesh and Pawan Gupta, contended that they were “denied fair trial under the garb of day-to-day trial and (under) torture they were compelled to accept the prosecution story which is not only concocted but also contrary to the facts”. Read the Livelaw story here.

On December 16, 2012, the 23 year old young paramedic student who boarded a private bus in Delhi along with her male friend, was raped and brutally assaulted by six men in the moving private bus. Widespread protests broke out in the national capital in the wake of the brutal gang rape. The first arrest in the case was made on December 18, 2012, of Ram Singh, the driver of the bus, while the girl still remained in a critical condition in the ICU.  On December 20, 2012, the victim’s friend testified. The other accused who was a minor, was arrested on December 21, 2012, and the very next day the sixth and the final accused, Akshay Thakur, was also arrested.

In May 2013, the Delhi High Court had upheld the death penalty awarded to the four convicts in the brutal gang rape which shook the nation’s conscience and had attracted widespread protests. The Court stated that their “barbaric” act is “not worthy of human condonation” and society cannot be a spectator to “such depraved behaviour”.

On September 13 last year, a Delhi court awarded death sentence to four of the rapists – Mukesh (26 years old), Akshay Thakur (28 years old), Pawan Gupta (19 years old) and Vinay Sharma (20 years old) for gangrape, murder, dacoity, unnatural offences and destruction of evidence. The minor was sent to a reform home for three years, and one main accused committed suicide in prison.

The bench however declined to pass an order to permit the matter to be heard by a three judge bench, according to the recent amendment to the Supreme Court rules which provides for all appeals by death row convicts to be heard by a three judge bench. The court said that the amendment has not yet been notified.

The juvenile was convicted of rape and murder and given the maximum sentence of three years in jail. There was hue and cry when the juvenile who as described as the vilest of the accused, was awarded three year imprisonment, the maximum tenure prescribed under the JJ Act, in a correctional home. The protestors called for more stringent punishment to the offender.

In March, refusing to read down the provisions of Juvenile Justice Act to account for the mental and intellectual competence of a juvenile offender, a three  Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh refused  to interfere with the age of juvenility in cases where juveniles are found guilty of heinous crimes, in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Subramanian Swamy. It was held by the Court that the provisions of the Act are in compliance with the Constitutional directives and international conventions. The Court further observed that it was not obligatory for a sovereign nation to be commanded by the laws of foreign jurisdictions. The Court held that the classification of juveniles as a special class stood the test of Article 14, and stated that it should restrict itself to the legitimacy and not the inevitability of the laws.

However, some development in this respect comes in the wake of the Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi’s statement, that juvenile who commits rape should be tried as adults. She also said that she is personally working to amend the law so that 16-year-olds are brought out of the purview of the Juvenile Justice Act.

The recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee, which was instituted as an aftermath of the gang-rape, to amend the criminal justice act, was however against the reduction of the age ceiling of 18 as the aim of the Juvenile Justice Act is to reform the child offender.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the 6th Annual Hindu Spiritual Fair, Gandhi said her Ministry was also considering setting up more foster care homes where the cost of children’s education would be borne by the government even after their adoption.

DCW chief Barkha Singh Shukla welcomed Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi’s statement. “I feel that the way children have exposed due to internet, they become matured after twelve years of age, with expert psychology they should try to find out why children do rape. Even in the Damini case, the cruelest person is going to be set free just because he is a juvenile. This is wrong,” said Sharma.

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