On Saturday, the court had issued a notice to the four convicts — Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta — to respond to government’s plea seeking their immediate execution and setting aside of the trial court’s order staying the hanging scheduled for February 1.
The Centre accused the convicts of adopting delaying tactics to delay the inevitable. It said the convicts had committed an “abhorrent” act and its logical conclusion of a death sentence was confirmed by all courts.
Mehta revisited the night of the crime and highlighted the cruelty inflicted upon the woman and how she was thrown off a bus and left to die on the road. In his opinion, a convict with sheer, calculated inaction, in tandem with other convicts, could frustrate the process of law. The Centre’s counsel also argued that seven years had passed but the convicts were still “playing” with the machinery of the judicial system.
Arguing on the point of the legal remedy of a mercy plea before the President, he said such a plea could be decided differently for different convicts. “Mercy jurisdiction is an individualistic jurisdiction. They can’t rely on the mercy plea with the President and say if one convict’s mercy is allowed, there could be a change of circumstances for the others,” Mehta argued.
This point was vehemently opposed by senior advocate Rebecca John, who represented convict Mukesh Singh. “Assuming that the President was to pardon one person, to say that it won’t have an effect on me is absolutely wrong,” she added.
John asked where the Centre was all this while during the warrant proceedings and why it had only “woken up” yesterday. “We are taking a life from a human being… And, therefore, the Constitution gives me the option of legal remedies. You keep saying delay, delay, delay… but you (Centre) never entered the trial court. Even death-row convicts have rights. They have rights to use their remedies and use it till their last breath of their lives,” she submitted.
She also asked if Delhi government had moved court seeking issuance of a death warrant in the last several years. John, who appeared along with advocate Vrinda Grover, objected to the Centre moving the high court challenging the order of the postponement of the hangings when it ought to have gone to Supreme Court. She underlined an argument given by the high court in an earlier order about how the trial court was taking the view of Supreme Court in connection with the hanging to a logical end.
John, therefore, argued that when the first date of execution was sought to be stayed in view of a mercy plea, the high court had stated that it could not decide any grievance with respect to the death warrants. “When I, a death row convict, was asked to approach Supreme Court… the same rule applies to the other party as well. This petition is not maintainable before the high court,” she said.
The victim’s family had moved the trial court seeking issuance of death warrants in December 2018 and John stated that from that time till January 2020, the Centre was never a party to the warrant proceedings. “This is the first time [sic] Union of India has superimposed themselves in these proceedings. What’s their locus and why they have done so is a matter of court to examine,” she said.
John also submitted when the trial court set February 1, 2020, as the date of hanging on January 17, it set the time for all four convicts and not one. “It didn’t bifurcate the dates… What is the tearing hurry? The execution could happen at any point in time — whether a few days, or a week or a month. I’m a making a statement against myself. I’m the most horrible person, committed most heinous crime, but I am still protected under Article 21,” John said.
The high court reserved its order after the arguments.