Acknowledging the magnitude of the situation, a Supreme Court committee had suggested all appeals, filed and pending, by death row convicts will from now on be heard by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court. Until now, the appeals were being heard by a two-judge bench. The recommendation was accepted by a full court, comprising of all the judges of the apex court. He informed that the amended rules have received the President’s assent and that they will be effective from August 16.
The change was informed by a bench headed by Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha, hearing several appeals by death row convicts, including Yakub Memon, who was held guilty in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, and Ashfaq, who was convicted in the Red Fort attack case. The Constitution bench also included Justices J.S. Khehar, J. Chelameshwar, A.K. Sikri and Rohington Nariman.
Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal was told that the Supreme Court rules have been amended, as per the recommendations of the committee comprising the former CJIs, Altamas Kabir and P. Sathasivam and himself.
The 187th report of the law commission, 2003, had suggested that death penalty-related cases in SC should be heard by a Bench of five judges.
The report however, stated, In the Supreme Court, the question is should there be a bench of not less than five Judges to hear and decide the cases relating to the death sentence? 51% of the Judges have given their answer in the negative, while 41% Judges are of the view that cases relating to the death sentence should be heard and decided by a bench of not less than five Judges.
A criminal writ petition by G. Sundarrajan is also pending before the apex court, demanding larger benches to decide such matters. The petitioner also demands review petitions by death row convicts to be heard in open court and not in the judges’ chambers. The petitioners and the bar argued that since review petitions against death penalty involved the life and liberty of a convict, they should be heard in the open court as is the case with original appeals filed against high court orders.