Welcome Human Touch to Death Row Convicts - The New Indian Express

Welcome Human Touch to Death Row Convicts

Published: 22nd January 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 22nd January 2014 01:19 AM

The Supreme Court’s commutation of the sentences of 15 death row convicts while ruling that delays in their execution were grounds to change their sentences to life imprisonment deserves to be welcomed. Tuesday’s verdict was based on an appeal by four members of the gang led by sandalwood smuggler Veerappan filed in 2004 that was rejected nine years later. Appeals to the president of India are the last legal obstacle between prisoners on death row and the hangman. These should be disposed of in a timely manner. The sentences can now be executed within 14 days of the rejection of a clemency appeal. Undue delay in execution of death sentences not only defeats their deterring effect but also causes avoidable mental agony to the accused.

By fixing a 14-day gap between dismissal of a mercy petition and hanging of a convict, the court has eliminated the possibility of politics being played and execution being delayed on extraneous considerations. A condemned convict can’t be made to suffer double agony. This will make the whole system more transparent. Significantly, as a fallout of the Afzal Guru case wherein the death row convict’s family received the intimation of his date of execution after it had been carried out, the apex court has made it clear that condemned prisoners must be given a chance to meet their family members before execution of death sentence. Legal aid must be provided inside jail to the condemned prisoners. The court has also ruled that solitary confinement of a death convict and other prisoners is unconstitutional and that the death sentence cannot be executed if the prisoner is suffering from mental illness and schizophrenia.

It is indeed heartening that some of these provisions which had not been clarified in the past in regard to death row prisoners have now been spelt out clearly. It is but fair that the governments concerned ensure that relief from execution be given, if at all, within the now-stipulated time span of 14 days.

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