Yakub hanged: Justice was rolling even in the dead of night, says lawyer

Advocate Rishabh Sancheti tells mid-day how he got together with four other lawyers at 4 pm on Wednesday and toiled non-stop for the next 14 hours, with only one aim in mind to uphold every right the Constitution provides to a death row convict until the moment he reaches the gallows; their pro bono effort led to an unprecedented move: the Supreme Court opened its doors in the early hours of the morning, just a few hours before Yakub Memon was hanged in Nagpur Central Jail

Behind the unprecedented pre-dawn hearing for a petition to save ’93 blasts convict Yakub Memon from the noose was a team of advocates in Delhi who were testing to see if the Indian judicial system could uphold the rights of a death row prisoner, as is granted by the Constitution of India.

Also read: Yakub Memon hanged to death in Nagpur, buried in Mumbai


Yakub Memon and Advocate Rishabh Sancheti

While Memon couldn’t be saved, the events that unfolded in the dead of night, the team said, signified that India’s justice system could still protect the rights of a death row convict until the very last second of his life.

Yakub Memon's execution: Timeline of events since 1993 Mumbai blasts

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

A team of five advocates worked on the final plea of the terror convict, all of whom got together in a tiny room in the apex court on Wednesday to draft the petition without asking, “What is in it for us?” The team included top-notch lawyers from the Capital, who came together, pro bono, for the case.

None of them had any connection to Memon’s defence team, nor were they related to the family. The team was attempting to save their 23rd prisoner on a death row, having previously saved Madanlal Barela, a poor tribal from Madhya Pradesh, who was set to go to the gallows at 5 am on a cold morning in 2013.

Even on that occasion, like in the Memon case, the team even had petitioned the Chief Justice of India (CJI), though a little earlier (7 pm), and managed to get a stay by 12.30 am. A battery of senior lawyers like Prashant Bhushan, Vrinda Grover, Raju Ramchandran (defence for Memon) and other prominent advocates was also present outside the CJI’s house in the night.

The group comprises advocates Rishabh Sancheti (who had argued in the Barela case), Sidharth Sharma, Yug Chaudhry, Paari, and Prabhu (who had drafted the petition in the Barela case). The entire team toiled from 4 pm on July 29 to 6.15 am the next day with a common commitment of exercising the convict’s rights until he went to the gallows.

“When we try to save a person, we don’t judge his conduct. We just see if he still has a right to be upheld under the Constitution. Today, while a life was lost, it was a victory for the Indian justice system,” said Sancheti, who also argued in the landmark Shatrughan Chauhan case, in which the Supreme Court narrowed down the grounds on which capital punishment can be imposed even in heinous cases, while commuting the death penalty of 15 prisoners to life imprisonment on January 21, 2014.

Also read: SC rejects Yakub Memon's plea to stall execution

Sancheti was also the counsel in a similar plea floated on behalf of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. “This country is already guilty of killing a person in a case which was declared to be per incuriam (in conflict with). In the Memon case, too, the prisoner’s right could have been protected by granting a 14-day stay,” he said.

Other convicts who were saved

Here are some of the other death row prisoners whom the team of five lawyers managed to save from the noose.

>> Surinder Koli (Nithari murder): On January 28, this year, the Allahabad High Court commuted the death sentence, awarded to Surinder Koli, to a life term in the murder of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar. Koli was sentenced to death by a special CBI court in Ghaziabad on February 13, 2009. The Allahabad High Court commuted the death sentence on the ground of ‘inordinate delay’ in deciding his mercy petition earlier this year. Koli’s appeal and mercy petition were both rejected and the date of his execution was also fixed before his sentence was reduced to life in jail.

Coming together

>> July 29, 4.15 pm: The team got together in the small drafting room in the Supreme Court soon after the President rejected Memon’s mercy petition at 4.10 pm. They contacted the defence team, requesting them to allow petition on a new ground, all pro bono. Senior advocate Anand Grover was roped in to argue in the final plea. “The Supreme Court had, in January, 2014, in a writ petition filed by death convict Shatrughan Chauhan, laid down guidelines for safeguarding the interests of death row convicts. We five chalked out the petition on those lines and petitioned the vacation registrar, who could, as per procedure, allow an out-of-turn hearing in a rarest-of-rare case. The Indian judicial system started rolling in the dead of the night, amidst the entire spectacle surrounding the hanging,” Sancheti told mid-day from his New Delhi office. 

>> 8.30 pm: Nisha Bharadwaj, the registrar, arrived on court premises upon urgent request of the team along with Chirag Bhanusingh, registrar (judicial), Supreme Court. The petition was mentioned (signed and prepared) by advocates Sancheti and Anandita Pujari. “They sanctioned our petition and informed that it would be filed before the CJI for his order at the earliest. We were then asked to wait,” said another team member.

>> 10.30 pm: The team decided to move to 5, Krishna Marg, the residence of the Chief Justice of India amidst heavy deployment of police and media. “This was not the first time we were petitioning the CJI in the dead of the night. We had done it in some previous cases in our attempt to save death row convicts, including Madanlal Barela, a poor tribal from Madhya Pradesh who survived the gallows following our petition,” a member said.

>> July 30, 1.30 am: The team learnt that a three-member bench was constituted and a hearing would begin at 2.15 am. The hearing, however, did not start until 3.15 am. “Once we reached the SC, we realised that the entire judicial machinery was alive, including the registrars, librarians, court masters, who were all present to make the delivery of justice possible on this landmark day for the Indian judiciary,” one of the team members told this reporter.

>> 4.58 am: Grover’s arguments, citing the Chauhan case that had laid down guidelines for safeguarding the interests of death row convicts, concluded but failed to convince the bench. He argued that 14 days must lapse between the rejection of a mercy petition and execution of the sentence.

>> 6.15 am: The five lawyers left the court, having toiled for 14 hours trying to defend the last rights of yet another death row convict. They slept not a wink, and neither ate nor drank. “While there was no pressure or trauma, we were exhausted. At the end of this, we realised that the judicial institution is alive until the convict has the very last right available even minutes before going to the gallows. As lawyers, it is our duty to uphold this right,” said Sancheti, who said there was no difference between Memon’s and the previous 22 cases, in which they managed to save death row convicts. “In all these cases, we were just trying to protect the last right available to a death row person provided under Article 21 of the Constitution,” said a team member.

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17 Comments

  • Suahs01-Aug-2015

    Attempting to save a terrorist is no less than being a terrorist. These Advocates are shameless. They indirectly are encouraging terrorism.

  • nathan01-Aug-2015

    These lawyer are doing this for the free publicity they get. Thus, they will get more paid clients. They have no sympathy for the 250-odd people killed and over 100 people maimed in the Mumbai blasts. Once the president rejects the mercy petition ( after the SC confirm the noose), no more mercy pleas or legal remedies should be allowed. Otherwise, there is no end to it and victim's family will never get justice. Those who plead for abolition of capital punishments are millionaires.

  • Rakesh kumar gupta, Chandigarh.01-Aug-2015

    It time for G O I to remove capital punishment from the Judicial process, this will stopped all the lawyer and human right activist of Terrorist to work hard to save them, thereby saving lot of money and resources of the government in this type of cases. It is also taken into A/C that only four execution are taken place in last 10 yr. So, It is very costly and impractical solution to maintain Capital Solution. This way government will take credits from the international community as well as from

  • Rajendra Somani01-Aug-2015

    Every citizen of India mst condemn these selfish and anti society lawyers for their conduct because these lawyers were never interested in saving the convict but were more interested in PUBLICITY . Had these lawyers were interested in saving these hardcore criminals then they should have approached the courts way back when death sentence was awarded but they waited for the last moment deliberately so that their names could be in the headlines of newspapers and electronic media,

  • Santanu Bhattacharya31-Jul-2015

    There is no question of being sentimental. The magnitude of the crime was so huge and staying in India these persons were involved in doing so heinous crime killing brutally 257 people and many other seriously injured, I think Our Judiciary System has done the right thing in right time. Those who are shading tears, most probably they are foreigners or use to quickly forget the pain of others. Mostly some lawyers are making stories with their persons to get the popularity.

  • Paramasivam31-Jul-2015

    Whatever they toiled, the convict is not a person fit for that toil. These 5 lawyers should have remembered 257 families who lost their dear ones. Have they did anything to any one of them? Now they are doing means, money, money.

  • Satyawadi01-Aug-2015

    The lawyers have one thing in mind and that is the money they get as very large fees.They are neither interested in the client in this case a terrorist nor those innocent victims who lost their lives in the bomb blasts.In their profession there is no word like patriotism or anti nationalism,for them it is the money that matters.

  • Ramrahim20-Aug-2015

    What a cheap publicity stunt by low class back door entry lawyer. What a shame! Such ppl didn't care about Yakub on whose corpse they are riding their career. Shame shame

  • Beatrice31-Jul-2015

    I hope this judgement will awaken the humane feelings of each n every good citizen of our country n question the system followed in our country. I was keepng a track n was shockd to see the happenings–One side there was the last min plea from all compassionate people n on the other all preparations were going on in Nagpur. Why they hd to create tht scene (tamasha) of opening the SC when they were so adamant n had decided to go ahead with their decision/pre-plan? What a mockery!

  • JKVR SETTY31-Jul-2015

    His body must be sent back to his place or as his family wants.Bot definitely not in Mumbai or in India.

  • Sukhvinder01-Aug-2015

    The comments above are eye-opening, more than the article itself!

  • priya01-Aug-2015

    IT IS TOTALLY WRONG TO SAY THAT AFTER THE PRESIDENT HAS GIVEN HIS VERDICT.....ITS THE ABUSE OF THE PRESIDENT ....AND THIS GUY HAS WRONGLY DARED IT

  • Aazaad Bhaarat01-Aug-2015

    We must Welcome justice given to victims of Mumbai bomb blasts.But no body is bothered about to stop these kind of incidents created by our judicial system.As per Shri Krishna commission, this incident took place due to Mumbai riots lead by Bala Saheb Thakrey, where 900 innocent people were killed but not a single culprit got punishment neither Thakrey was even arrested. Modi, responsible for killing of thousands of innocent people of Gujrat, now he is PM of country and he is being worshiped.

  • Deepak Deshpande31-Jul-2015

    These lawyers are no better than traitors. Did Indian citizen Yakub did his duty towards motherland? Did these lawyers who behaved like Pakistani patriots fight for the rights of victims ? These lawyers should be hauled up for misleading the courts and speaking lies. Yakub Memon had already prepared his will. Yet these bootlickers of Pakistan told court at 3=30am on 30 july that Yakub should be given 14 days to prepare his will etc. Yahoo has erred seriously in glamourising thses traitors

  • SRIDHARAN31-Jul-2015

    Without going into the judgement, I salute the Indian judiciary - the Supreme Court, Chief Justice and his team of Judges, the Lawyers for their untiring effort to bring justice, unmindful of the fact it was midnightAlso, the team of electronic media - the anchors, correspondents, camera crew - in bringing minute by minuteaccount of what is happening to the viewers - I was glued to my TV till 5 AM on that historic daySATHYAMEVA JAYATHE !

  • Leeladhar01-Aug-2015

    These So called Top lawyer shall not understand the meaning of Terrorist, They wanted to become Hero like happens in Movie. They have not went without any motive. They wanted to prove themselves a superb advocate so that in future they have top cases of India with huge fee/commission, so that top criminals, Money laundering culprits approach them and they can earn more that what they have not earned so far.We feel shame that they have done such a act. These are greedy people. Shame on you all.

  • vijayaraghavan mb31-Jul-2015

    The above said lawyers were very busy to punish the judges .. Did they ever thought of karma?

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