New Delhi: A death row convict from Chhattisgarh on Tuesday became the first person to get the benefit of the Supreme Court's recent ruling that condemned prisoners must be given an open court hearing on the petition seeking review of the capital punishment.
Sonu Sardar, whose mercy petition was rejected by the President, was given an open hearing in accordance with the September 2 verdict of the five-judge Constitution Bench which had held that a limited oral hearing even at the review stage is mandated by Article 21 in all death sentence cases.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice A R Dave said "the review petition will be considered only to the extent of the sentence part".
"We are not in appeal. How do we sit on appeal. It has to be confined to sentence," the bench, also comprising Justices J Chelameswar and U U Lalit said while disagreeing with Sardar's counsel and senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, who was urging for re-examination of the findings on conviction.
The bench issued notice while seeking response from the Chhattisgarh Government and posted the matter for hearing on November 12.
The state government's standing counsel Atul Jha also raised objection to the submission of Sardar's counsel that the conviction should be relooked.
Ramachandran's submission that proper legal assistance was not provided to the apex court during the hearing of the appeal as advocate was from the Supreme Court Legal Aid did not go well with the bench.
The bench said it was not correct to make submission like this as it would be like blaming the apex court.
"I am sorry to say this and I am anguished to say this. Don't blame Supreme Court if legal assistance was not rendered properly. I request senior advocates to sit and examine how matters are argued. It is not for us judges but for institution," Justice Chelameswar said.
While disagreeing with Ramachandran that the entire matter has to be looked into, the bench said "we have seen the entire thing and we have seen that conviction part has been well considered in the judgement".
Sardar, who was few months above the age of minority, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing five family members including two minors of a scrap dealer in Raipur on November 26, 2004 by the trial court on February 27, 2008.
The Chhattisgarh High Court and the Supreme Court had confirmed it on March 8, 2010 and February 23, 2012 respectively. The Supreme Court had thereafter on June 19 stayed execution of his death sentence.
The President had rejected his mercy plea on April 21 this year.