Supreme_Court_of_IndiaOn 27 May 2015, Supreme Court quashed the warrants for execution of death sentence awarded to an Amroha couple – Shabnam and Saleem who have been convicted in a 2010-case involving murder of seven family members of Shabnam.

On 15 May 2015, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by CJI HL Dattu had dismissed the appeal filed by the duo and had affirmed the confirmation of death sentences by the Allahabad High Court. Subsequently on 21 May 2015, merely six days later, Sessions Judge of Amroha issued the execution warrant of capital punishment. It is pertinent to note that under the Supreme Court Rules, 2013, a review petition can be filed against any judgment or order within 30 days of such order.


Cases Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 88 of 2015
Shabnam v. Union of India and Ors.Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 88 of 2015Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 89 of 2015
National Law University Delhi – Death Penalty Litigation Clinic v. Union of India and Ors.
Counsels For Shabnam: Anand Grover, Sr. Advocate and Shadan Farasat, Advocate
For NLUD- DPLC: Raju Ramchandran, Sr. Advocate and Shreya Rastogi, Advocate.
Bench [Vacation]
  • Justice AK Sikri
  • Justice Uday U Lalit

Death warrants ‘haste’, violate Article 21

Hearing the Writ Petitions filed by the Shabnam and the National Law University Delhi – Death Penalty Litigation Clinic, the vacation bench of Supreme Court comprising of Justices AK Sikri and UU Lalit observed that the death warrants were issued without waiting for the mandatory 30 days to allow the convicts to file petitions for review of the May 15 judgment of the Supreme Court. It observed:

Right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution extends to the death row convicts as well. That is why there are many judgments mandating the manner in which the death sentence has to be executed.

Earlier on 25 May 2015, the bench had stayed execution of death sentence and had asked the prosecution party – State of Uttar Pradesh to produce the original record of the case on 27 May 2015.

Observing that the death warrant was signed by the sessions judge in haste without waiting for convict to exhaust all legal remedies, the bench ordered:

We set aside the warrants issued by the Sessions Judge on May 21 for the execution of the death sentence.

Court also pointed out it was open for the couple to seek review of the conviction upholding judgment of the Supreme Court and can also seek mercy from the Governor for commuting their sentences.

Miffed with the haste issuance of death warrant without letting the convicts exhaust all the legal remedies, bench ordered:

We direct the respondents (authorities) to follow the procedure and guidelines laid down in the judgments of the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court. The guidelines are intended to make the execution least painful.

Bench also referred to the case of Mohd. Arif v. Supreme Court of India, (2014) 9 SCC 737 where a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, by a majority view of 4:1, had led down that after the review petitions filed against confirmation of death sentences by the Supreme Court should be heard in an open court by a bench of three judges, as against the normal rule of deciding the review petitions by circulation in chambers of the judges.

Uttar Pradesh accepts fault

Uttar Pradesh Government agreed that the warrants were faulty as the mandatory guidelines were not followed. Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for the Union of India, also assured the apex court that the rules and guidelines for execution of death sentence would be strictly followed. [PTI]

Constitution Bench on review of death sentences

The issue of the modus of hearing of review of the death sentence was examined by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in In the Mohd. Arif v. Supreme Court of India, (2014) 9 SCC 737.

Order VI, Rule 3 of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 provides that “every cause, appeal or other proceedings arising out of a case in which death sentence has been confirmed or awarded by the High Court shall be heard by a Bench consisting of not less than three Judges.”

Reiterating the same, Constitution Bench had held:

Henceforth, in all cases in which death sentence has been awarded by the High Court in appeals pending before the Supreme Court, only a bench of three Hon’ble Judges will hear the same. This is for the reason that at least three judicially trained minds need to apply their minds at the final stage of the journey of a convict on death row, given the vagaries of the sentencing procedure outlined above.

Observing that review petitions against such death sentence confirmations by the Supreme Court should be heard by at least three judges of the Supreme Court, it held:

…can the petitioners […] claim that when it comes to deciding the review petitions where the death sentence is pronounced, oral hearing should be given as a matter of right?

We may like to state at this stage itself that we are going to answer the above question in the affirmative as our verdict is that in review petitions arising out of those cases where the death penalty is awarded, it would be necessary to accord oral hearing in the open Court.