The Apex court also held that right to life does not end with the confirmation of the death sentence, observing that the basis to the right to dignity also extends to the death row convicts.
The apex court said this while it quashed the execution warrants of a young woman and her lover, convicted for killing seven members of her family including a 10-month-old baby in Uttar Pradesh in 2008, noting that it was issued "in haste" by giving a go-by to mandatory guidelines.
The convicts, Shabnam and her lover Saleem, could also approach the Uttar Pradesh Governor with mercy petitions after exhausting the legal remedies, it noted.
"We find that the death warrant was signed by the Sessions Judge in haste without waiting for the convicts to exhaust the available legal remedies," a bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and U U Lait said while noting that there were judgements of both the apex court and the Allahabad High Court which mandated the authorities to follow certain guidelines to protect the "dignity" of the convicts.
"Right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution does not end with the confirmation of the death sentence. The basis to the right to dignity also extends to the death row convicts. Therefore, the sentence of death has to be executed with total dignity.
"That is why there are many judgements mandating the manner in which the death sentence has to be executed," the bench said and added that "therefore the procedure prescribed by the Supreme Court and the Allahabad High Court for execution of death sentence is in consonance with Article 21".
Among the mandatory guidelines are that the death-row convicts have the right to meet their family members. The guidelines are intended to make the execution least painful.
"We, therefore, direct the respondents (authorities) to follow the procedure and guidelines laid down in the judgements of the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court.
"We set aside the warrants issued by the Sessions Judge on May 21 for the execution of the death sentence," the bench said.
(With inputs from agencies)