In the backdrop of procedural delay in the Nirbhaya case, the Supreme Court has decided to fast-track the hearing of criminal appeals involving the death penalty.
A circular was issued on Friday by the apex court saying all appeals must be listed for hearing not later than six months, no matter if the appeal is ready or not, a significant departure from the past when appeals from high courts did not come up for hearing for years.
“In a matter wherein, the High Court has confirmed/upheld death penalty, and this court has granted leave, the criminal appeal will be listed for hearing not later than six months before the three-judge bench from the grant of leave, irrespective of the fact that appeal is ready or not”, said the circular of the top court.
The Centre has told the apex court that the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case have brazenly exploited the loopholes in the legal procedure in execution of death row convicts.
The circular said, “As soon as the Special Leave Petition involving death penalty is filed, a communication from Registry may be sent to the court appealed from, to make ready and dispatch to this court the certificate of services as well as the original record within a period of sixty days or within further such period fixed by court.”
The top court also issued several other directions to Registrars to ensure speedy hearing and disposal. “On grant of leave by the court, the Registry may insist on filing of additional documents by the parties within a period of thirty days after the receipt of the intimation from the Registry in this regard”, added the circular.
The top court observed that in the event records or additional documents have not been received or filed, the matter may be listed before the judge in chambers with appropriate office report for directions, instead of listing the matter before the Registrar court as per existing practice.
“The aforesaid directions shall be followed scrupulously by all, especially the branches dealing with criminal matters and listing branch”, said the top court in the circular.
On January 31, a trial court stayed “till further orders” the execution of four convicts — Mukesh Kumar Singh (32), Pawan Gupta (25), Vinay Kumar Sharma (26) and Akshay Kumar (31) — in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case of 2012. Out of four convicts, three have exhausted all legal remedies against the death penalty. The delay in the hanging has triggered a public outcry.