The noose tightens

Aug 30, 2012, 07:19 IST | Samarth Moray

MiD DAY speaks to lawyers to gauge the legal fraternity's response to the historic verdict, and also finds out what possible legal routes Qasab can take to escape the death penalty

Now that the Supreme Court has given its verdict, the question that rises is what legal options condemned terrorist Ajmal Qasab now has access to. MiD DAY spoke to legal experts to find out.

One of the options is revision, but chances seem bleak. According to advocate Ahmad Abdi, Qasab could opt for revision before going in for a clemency plea. “A revision is a proceeding which takes place before the same bench that heard the appeal. Its scope is very narrow. If an error is apparent on the face of the record, only then does revision make sense.”

Apart from revision, Qasab is likely to apply for Presidential clemency. Article 72 of the Constitution of India allows Presidents to grant pardons and suspend, remit or commute sentences. Similar powers are conferred on the governors of states.

Shortly before her term came to an end, former President Pratibha Patil commuted the death sentences of 35 convicts to life sentences. Three other pleas were rejected, including those of Afzal Guru, who was involved in the attack on the Parliament.

Patil’s predecessor APJ Abdul Kalam had 25 mercy petitions pending before him, of which he commuted one death sentence to life. At present, President Pranab Mukherjee has 11 mercy petitions pending before him.

Lawyers speak
Speaking on the apex court’s ruling, advocate Ujjwal Nikam, who was the Special Public Prosecutor in Qasab’s case said, “It is a historic verdict, because the court has acknowledged that Qasab is from Pakistan and came to India with a view to wage war against the State. The apex court has also considered the fact that the attacks were a criminal conspiracy meant to destabilise the country. The judgement will boost the morale of our country, by insisting that Pakistan should take drastic action to stop the practice of terrorism.”

“In this case, I support the death penalty, for the sake of the safety of the country and its citizens. The rules of engagement do not apply to terrorists,” said advocate Mohsain Shirazi.

Shirazi however cited the IC-814 hijacking to point out what kinds of tactics could be used to secure Qasab’s freedom, were he allowed to live. “We don’t know how much of a deterrent the death penalty is,” he cautioned.

“The verdict was expected, considering how clinching the evidence was. I support the use of the death penalty in such exceptional cases. The ‘doctrine of rarest of rare’, as laid down by the Supreme Court has been correctly applied in this case,” said advocate Subhash Jha.

Advocate Srikant Bhat said, “The death penalty has to be maintained. However, I don’t agree with the doctrine of ‘rarest of rare’ cases. It should be entirely based upon the discretion of the judge… The verdict is welcome, and ought to have come earlier. A special bench must be constituted to deal with such cases.”  

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