Supreme Court rejects review petitions of three of Nirbhaya’s rapists facing death penalty

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India rejected a review petitions filed by three of the accused in the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape case challenging the convictions and death sentence. The bench comprising of the Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and Justices R Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, found no grounds in the petition which would have invoked the Court’s review jurisdiction as per Article 137 of the Constitution read in consonance with Order XLVII, Rule 1 of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013.

The judgment penned by Justice Ashok Bhushan, explained the scope and grounds available to the Court with respect to reviewing criminal proceedings, which are warranted only if there is an apparent error in the application of law, and not a reason to rehash old, overruled arguments. post this analysis, it examined the grounds raised in the petition, with the counsel for the accused arguing on various grounds such as his illegal detention, his lack of a bus driver’s license, and torture during custody among others. With the Court analysing all evidence and statements on record, judgements of the lower courts, and arguments of the Respondent, held the review petition to be untenable as it did not provide suitable grounds for admittance.

Case history

On December 17, 2012, the whole nation woke up, much to its displeasure, to learn that a young para-medical intern was brutally gang-raped by six men on a moving bus, in which they were joyriding. The rape gained a lot of attention from not only across the country, but from all over the world, and gave fresh impetus for women’s movements to push for more stringent rape laws, and laws relating to sexual offences in general. Unfortunately, some of the popularity owes to the manner in which the victim was violently abused, which eventually led to her death.


It was the fateful evening of December 16, 2012 when “Nirbhaya” went along with her friend to watch a movie in a Delhi mall. After the movie finished, they left the mall only to board a bus, which they were informed would go towards their destination. As the bus moved, doors of the bus were locked, Nirbhaya’s friend was beaten unconscious, and Nirbhaya was subjected to rape as well as brutal physical abuse by six men. The accused persons also inserted an iron rod and hands in her vagina, which caused serious injuries to her private parts. After abusing Nirbhaya brutally, the accused men threw her out of a moving bus, only to be rescued forty minutes later.

Trial court findings

After a long and detailed trial, the trial court convicted all the persons accused in this case namely, Akshay Kumar Singh aka Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Mukesh, and Pawan Gupta aka Kaalu for committing gang rape, attempt to murder, robbery, dacoity, unnatural sexual intercourse, for possessing stolen property, and criminal conspiracy, against the victim, Nirbhaya. Ram Singh, one of the six men accused of rape and murder, was found hanging while in police custody.

The trial court sentenced all the above referred convicted persons to death, for committing the murder of Nirbhaya, who died battling her fatal injuries. Other than the death penalty, the trial court also imposed numerous other sentences on the convicts which were to run concurrently. One of the accused, a minor at the time of the rape, was also found guilty of rape and murder by the Juvenile Justice Board and was sentenced to three years confinement at a reformatory home.

High Court affirmed

Since every death sentence imposed by a trial court has to be affirmed by an order of a High Court, the trial court decision sentencing Akshay Kumar Singh aka Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Mukesh, and Pawan Gupta aka Kaalu to death was referred to the Delhi High Court, for its affirmation or rejection of the trial court decision of imposing death penalty on the convicted persons, and a resultant reduction of the sentence from death, to a lower sentence, such as life imprisonment. The High Court gave serious consideration to the facts of the case, evidence collected, and the trial court decision, and came to the conclusion that the trial court judgment is a valid and in fact, an appropriate conclusion, and therefore, affirmed the same.

The High Court stated its decision that giving the maximum punishment would convey a message to the society that “deviant behavior of an extreme kind” will not be tolerated. The High Court also noted that the punishment awarded by the courts must reflect the “public abhorrence of the crime” and must be proportionate to the atrocity committed on the victim. “When the collective conscience of society is shocked”, the High Court held, “the holders of judicial power are expected to award the death sentence.” Finally, the High Court held that this case qualified as  one of the “rarest of rare” cases, the only situation which according to the Supreme Court, calls for a death sentence.

Supreme Court upholds HC judgment

The Supreme Court found that the trial court and the High Court have correctly considered the facts of the case, law involved and therefore, upheld the High Court’s affirmation of the death sentence imposed by the trial court. The Supreme Court found that the tower courts gave due consideration to the aggravating and mitigating circumstances for imposing a death sentence, as required by law. The Supreme Court highlighted the manner in which Nirbhaya’s intestines were pulled out “in the most savage and inhumane manner.”

The Court also highlighted the “casual manner” in which Nirbhaya and her accompanying friend were thrown out of the bus and sought to be crushed by running the bus over them and stated that this shows the convicted persons’ utter disregard for human life and dignity. The Court noted that the case effectuated a “tsunami” of shock in the minds of the people.

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