SC Judgment on Mercy Plea Remarkable for Its Humanity
By Soli J Sorabjee | Published: 26th January 2014 07:08 AM |
A bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh in its recent judgment regarding disposal of mercy petition ruled that the power to grant pardon to a criminal under sentence of death is not a matter of grace or privilege but a constitutional duty. The court ruled that even after the sentence of death has become final, there can be supervening circumstances for commuting death sentence to life imprisonment, one of which can be delay. The court observed that “keeping a convict in suspense while consideration of his mercy petition by the President for many years is certainly an agony for him/her. It creates adverse physical conditions and psychological stresses on the convict under sentence of death”. The court emphasised that the agonising delay caused to the convict cannot be excused only on the basis of the gravity of the crime. The court held that “if the convict files a mercy petition to the governor/President, it is incumbent on the authorities to dispose of the same expeditiously. Though no time limit can be fixed for the governor and President, it is the duty of the executive to expedite the matter at every stage”.
The court ruled that if there is undue, unexplained and inordinate delay in execution of sentence, death sentence can be commuted into life imprisonment, however only after the court is satisfied that the delay was not caused at the instance of the accused. That will depend on the facts of each case. The court emphasised that “sentence of death is one thing, sentence of death followed by lengthy imprisonment prior to execution is another” and because prolonged delay in execution of sentence of death has a dehumanising effect on the convict and constitutes mental torture which results in infringement of his/her fundamental rights under Article 21 which right is available till life is extinct. This path-breaking judgment is truly remarkable for its erudition as well its humanity.
AAP’s Bizarre Governance: It would be uncharitable to judge AAP harshly, forgetting that it is hardly a month old and its bold initiatives to relieve citizens of the water and power problems. The aim of AAP to bring the police under its control and not that of the Central government is understandable. But a laudable end cannot be achieved by illegitimate means. It is bizarre that Chief Minister Kejriwal passionately calls himself an anarchist. A-self proclaimed anarchist cannot under our constitutional scheme continue to hold the post of a chief minister having regard to his oath of office. If Kejriwal believes that anarchist methods can solve the political mess, he is free to lead agitations for that purpose as an ordinary citizen after he resigns from the office of chief minister. The function of the chief minister and the Delhi government is to govern. A chief minister cannot be a street protestor. Respected social activist Aruna Roy has rightly stressed that an elected government should not resort to street protests.
The Supreme Court taking stock of the situation has issued notice to Kejriwal and the Delhi government in regard to the dharna and continued violation of prohibitory orders under Section 144. At the end of the day, Kejriwal has eroded the dignity of his high office. If the dharna was not called off and events which followed in its wake had persisted, President’s Rule could have been imposed because the government was not acting in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Lt Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung deserves full credit for defusing the situation by giving a face-saving breather to the chief minister by requiring the concerned policemen to go on leave. A party with national ambitions must put its house in order. Otherwise it
Sorabjee is a former Attorney General of India