Now Onus on officials to Clear Mercy Petitions Expeditiously
The Supreme Court on Tuesday commuted the death sentence of 15 convicts to life imprisonment and held that death sentence of a condemned prisoner can be commuted to life imprisonment on the ground of delay on the part of the government in deciding their mercy plea. Among the 15 people are Pilavendran, Gnanaprakasam, Simon and M Mathaiyan - four aides of forest brigand Veerappan.
The court also noted that keeping a convict in suspense while consideration of his/her mercy petition by the President for many years is certainly an agony for him/her and creates adverse physical conditions and psychological stress on the convict facing death.
“It is clear that after the completion of the judicial process, 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 the President, it is the duty of the executive to expedite the matter at every stage, viz., calling for the records, orders and documents filed in the court, preparation of the note for approval of the Minister concerned, and the ultimate decision of the constitutional authorities,” the court said.
Framing guidelines on disposal of mercy petitions and execution of death sentence, the apex court ruled that convicts given death sentence must be informed about the rejection of their mercy plea. It held that solitary confinement of a prisoner is unconstitutional.
Noting that undue delays in deciding a death row petition was minimum in 1980s the court said, “Until 1980, mercy petitions were decided in a minimum of 15 days and a maximum of 10-11 months. Thereafter, from 1980 to 1988, the time taken in disposal of mercy petitions was gradually increased to an average of four years. Unfortunately now a delay of a maximum 12 years is seen in disposing of the mercy petitions.”
According to Home Ministry figures, the Centre takes on average 8-9 years to dispose of mercy petitions and in one case it took almost 14 years. Some of the death row convicts approached courts after their mercy pleas were rejected by the President.
The bench also said that execution of death sentence should be carried out within 14 days after rejection of the mercy plea.
“While some prison manuals provide for a final meeting between a condemned prisoner and his family immediately prior to execution, many manuals do not. Such a procedure is intrinsic to humanity and justice, and should be followed by all prison authorities. It is therefore, necessary for prison authorities to facilitate and allow a final meeting between the prisoner and his family and friends prior to his execution,” it said.