The Supreme Court has rejected the review plea of Nirbhaya gangrape and murder convict Akshay Kumar Singh who had moved court seeking commutation of his sentence. This comes a day after Chief Justice of India recused and a bench of Justices R Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan and A S Bopanna upheld the death penalty. Akshay Kumar Singh is one of the five men convicted in the gangrape and murder of Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi, in December 2012.
The order in the case was read out around 1.23 pm on Wednesday. Justice Bhanumathi said that they had given due consideration to the grounds of the review petition. The judges said that all these grounds had already been examined in the trial court, High Court and Supreme Court earlier, and could not be allowed again and again.
According to Live Law, the judgment said that the Nirbhaya case had shocked the "collective conscience of the society", and reiterated that the case fell into the rarest of rare category. The bench deemed the attitude of the convicts as "beastial proclivity", and said that the case sounded like a story from a world where "humanity is treated with irreverence".
After the pronouncement upholding Akshay's death penalty, Akshay's lawyer, AP Singh, sought three weeks from the court to file a mercy plea before President Ram Nath Kovind. However, the Solicitor General Tushar Mehta countered that the law only allowed for a week's time to do the same. The Supreme Court has allowed for the same. The advocate told media persons later that he would also be filing curative petitions in the case against the death penalty.
Five men and one juvenile were convicted in the Nirbhaya case. While the five men — Ram Singh, Mukesh Pawan Gupta, Akshay Kumar Singh, and Vinay Sharma – were put on death row, the minor was tried under the Juvenile Justice Act, and given the maximum sentence of three years at a correction facility. The main accused, Ram Singh, died in Tihar Jail in Delhi in 2013, allegedly by suicide.
On Wednesday, the apex court gave Akshay’s counsel half an hour to argue his review petition.
The petitioner argued that there was undue pressure being put on courts by the media and the public to implicate Akshay, even as others had been overlooked. The lawyer AP Singh argued that lack of professional conduct and efficiency during the investigation had led to the failure to catch the “real perpetrators”. He said that Akshay has been given death only because he is poor.
The advocate then drew a parallel to the murder of a seven-year-old boy in Gurugram in September 2017 in the school’s toilet, and how a bus conductor was wrongly accused in the case initially.
The lawyer repeated the arguments made in the review petition filed earlier last week where he said that when life expectancy itself was reducing in India thanks to rising pollution and other ailments, why give death penalty. “We have been advised to go out of Delhi (due to pollution). Then, why death? Let him stay in custody. Not death,” he said, as per LiveLaw.
Akshay’s counsel also invoked moral and legal arguments against capital punishment, and said that death penalty should be abolished as it is against human rights, and doesn’t address root cause of the problem.
Lawyer AP Singh then argued that Nirbhaya’s dying declaration had discrepancies, which made it unreliable. He said that in her third dying declaration, the victim had named a person named Vipin, and Akshay’s name came after Vipin, but the investigators had failed to show the Vipin’s involvement; and that only her first dying declaration was considered where Akshay’s name was apparently not taken.
“Second and third [dying declarations] are results of tutoring. The victim was then continuously using morphine. How can she give dying declaration?” he argued.
However, Justice J Bhushan responded that all these submissions were made earlier, and that the petitioner should only talk about what the error in judgment is now.
AP Singh also said that Nirbhaya’s male friend, who was accompanying her on the bus the night of the crime, had allegedly taken lakhs of rupees in bribes, and thus was a “tainted witness.” He said that he had filed a case in the matter at the Patiala Court House.
He further said that the death of one of the convicts, Ram Singh, in jail was suspicious. AP Singh quoted from a book written by a law officer from Tihar, which said that Ram Singh’s death may have been a murder. However, the court said that it could not go by views of authors.
After hearing AP Singh’s arguments, the bench gave 10 minutes to Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta to present the argument against the Akshay’s review petition. Tushar Mehta told the court that every argument that Akshay’s lawyer had made, the court had already heard before. All arguments had gone through detailed legal process and cannot be considered for reversal at this stage, Mehta said, adding that there are no new grounds for the case here.
The Solicitor General further argued that there could be no mercy in such cases, and that the lawyers of the accused were just delaying the inevitable.