New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of December 2000 Red Fort terror shootout convict Mohamed Arif's death sentence on a plea that he has already undergone life sentence of nearly 14 years and could not be punished twice and referred the matter to a constitution bench.

Red Fort
Red Fort in New Delhi. File pic

Counsel Tripurari Ray, appearing for Arif, said that carrying out the death sentence of Arif after he has already completed 13 years, four month imprisonment would be violative of article 20 (1) of the constitution.

Ray told the court that under the provision, a convict could not be subjected to a punishment that is greater than which might have been inflicted under the law in force at the time of the commission of the offence.

Referring the matter, a bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph said that matter be heard early.

As Chief Justice Lodha said that by an earlier pronouncement of the apex court, the law on delay in execution has already been laid, Ray told the court that Arif has not filed any mercy petition.

So his case, Ray said, was not covered under pronouncement of the court that inordinate, unexplained, and unjustified delay in deciding the mercy petitions was a ground for seeking commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment.

Arif was arrested December 25, 2000. He was convicted by the trial court October 24, 2005 and awarded death sentence Oct 31, 2005.

His death sentence was confirmed by the Delhi High Court Sep 13, 2007.

The apex court dismissed his appeal August 10, 2011, and his review petition was dismissed Aug 28, 2011.

Arif and his accomplices stormed the Red Fort on December 22, 2000 and attacked Rajputana Rifles camp. Their indiscriminate firing at the army camp resulted in the death of three soldiers - Naik Ashok Kumar, Uma Shankar and Abdullah Thakur.

Eleven accused including Arif were put to trial and the trial court by its Octr 24, 2005 order sentenced Arif to death and six other to varying sentences and acquitting other four.

The high court, upon appeal by Arif, upheld his death sentence, but acquitted other six.

The apex court Aug 10, 2011, while dismissing Arif's appeal and upholding his death sentence, had said: "In fact, this is a unique case where there is one most aggravating circumstance that it was a direct attack on the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India by foreigners. Thus, it was an attack on Mother India. This is apart from the fact that as many as three persons had lost their lives."

"The conspirators had no place in India. Appellant (Arif) was a foreign national and had entered India without any authorization or even justification. This is apart from the fact that the appellant built up a conspiracy by practicing deceit and committing various other offences in furtherance of the conspiracy to wage war against India as also to commit murders by launching an unprovoked attack on the soldiers of Indian Army", the court said.