The four convicts in the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case on Sunday contended in the Delhi High Court that since they were sentenced to death by a common order, they have to be executed together and cannot be "singled out".
The lawyers appearing for the four convicts -- Mukesh Kumar (32), Akshay Singh (31), Vinay Sharma (26) and Pawan Gupta (25) -- told the high court that some of them cannot be singled out for execution and neither the Centre nor the Delhi government has the power under the rules to do so.
The submission was made before Justice Suresh Kumar Kait during hearing of the Centre and Delhi government's joint plea challenging a trial court decision to stay the hanging of the four "till further orders".
Senior advocate Rebecca John and advocate Vrinda Grover, appearing for Mukesh, told the high court that the petition was not maintainable in view of a recent order by a division bench of the court that the lower court's order has to be challenged in the Supreme Court.
The high court's order, that John was referring to, had come while declining to hear Mukesh' plea seeking a stay on the trial court's earlier order to execute all four on January 22.
Advocate A P Singh, who appeared for the other three convicts, began his arguments claiming there were facts in the case, like the death of accused Ram Singh, which were not investigated by the police.
However, after hearing him on the issue for a few minutes, the court said the arguments were "not relevant" as "trial is over" and the entire case has been decided by the Supreme Court.
Subsequently, the court asked him to sit down and thereafter, John commenced arguing.
During her arguments, John said, "The death sentence by the trial court was one composite order and it was upheld as such by the high court and the Supreme Court. If the sentence is common, then the execution has to be common. That is what I am seeking".
She contended that "bifurcation" of execution of the sentence was not possible under the law.
John said the Centre was accusing the convicts of working in tandem to deliberately delay process of law, but "what were they (Centre and Delhi government) doing till now".
"They are accusing us of delay. The Centre woke up only two days ago," she said.
She also contended that the Centre was never a party in the case proceedings before the trial court.
"It was the victim's parents who moved the trial court for issuance of death warrants against the convicts. At no point the central government or the state government approached the trial court to immediately issue death warrants," John contended.
She also questioned the "tearing hurry" in filing the instant petition by the Centre and Delhi government and said that they could have waited for a few days more till the mercy pleas as well as other remedies of all the convicts were decided.
She said if mercy plea by any of the others is granted by the President, it would amount to a change in circumstance entitling her client to move another mercy plea.
"That is why it is important for me (Mukesh) to wait. My fundamental rights are protected. It is guaranteed under the Constitution. You cannot condemn me for using Constitutional provisions. I can do so till the last breath of my life. My rights are protected till I die," she told the court.
"I am only asking for a few extra days. No prejudice would be caused to anyone, if we wait. If everything is rejected, date of execution would not be that far away," she said and added, "We do not want a posthumous moral tale to be told later".
John also told the high court that the Centre has moved a plea in the Supreme Court seeking clarification whether co-convicts can be executed separately and this petition is pending before the apex court.