Don’t hang the convicts hurriedly and secretly, says Supreme Court

Supreme Court on in its recent judgment said that the execution of death sentence cannot be carried out in a hurried and secret manner. A bench of justices AK Sikri and UU Lalit of the Apex Court observed that proper procedure must be followed by Government authorities and execution cannot be done till the convict exhausts all remedy available to him to save his life.

Supreme Court, while quashing 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.

Holding that, the death convicts cannot be denied fundamental right to life, observed that Government cannot hang condemned prisoners without giving him prior notice and allowing him to meet family members.

“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 judgments 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”.

Apex court further observed 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. In the given case Apex Court observed that the death warrant was signed by the Sessions Judge in haste without waiting for the convicts to exhaust the available legal remedies.

Supreme Court commutes death sentence to life imprisonment

A Bench of Justices Dipak Misra, R F Nariman and U U Lalit said that, “Though no time limit can be fixed within which the mercy petition ought to be disposed of, in our considered view the period of 3 years and 10 months to deal with such mercy petitions in the present case comes within the expression “inordinate delay.”

Supreme Court considering the period of 3 years and 10 months delay by the Centre in deciding mercy petition of a prisoner as “inordinate delay” has commuted the death sentence of the condemned prisoner to life imprisonment.

While granting relief to the convict, the Supreme Court also noted that the right of death convict was further violated by incarcerating him in solitary confinement for the last seven years ever since his death sentence was upheld by it in 2007.

The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that a death convict should never be put to solitary confinement till his mercy petition was disposed of.

It is a case where the convict Mr. Ajay Kumar Pal, who was awarded death sentence by trial court in April 2007 for killing 5 people including three children. Offence occurred in the year 2003. His conviction and sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court on March16, 2010. Within a month he sent his mercy plea. Subsequently, his mercy petition was rejected by the President of India on November 08, 2013.

Convict thereafter moved Supreme Court for commutation of his death sentence on grounds of delay on the part of Government in deciding his mercy plea. Bench observed that, “the combined effect of the inordinate delay in disposal of mercy petition and the solitary confinement for such a long period, in our considered view has caused deprivation of the most cherished right. A case is definitely made out under Article 32 of the Constitution of India and this Court deems it proper to reach out and grant solace to the petitioner for the ends of justice. We, therefore, commute the sentence and substitute the sentence of life imprisonment in place of death sentence awarded to the petitioner.”

Supreme Court gives 2nd thought on death penalty

Mahima Gherani

Showing increasing distress in awarding death penalty, the Supreme Court found two main questions bothering it after Sonu Sardar was awarded death penalty by the trial court, which was accepted by the High Court and further ratified by the apex court and his merciful plea was rejected by the President.

Sonu along with his minor collaborators were arrested but three of them flee after looting and murdering the family of a Muslim scrap dealer, including two minor children and women in Chattisgarh. After committing the crime, Sonu was the only one to be held for trial and the other three absconders where yet to be arrested.

Appearing on Sonu’s side advocate Raja Ramachandran said that it had now come to light that the accused was 18 years and 2months old while committing the crime, and not 23 years as it was recorded in the judgment.

The two major questions before the Chattisgarh counsel were, Firstly whether the accused was just above the age of juvenility, and Secondly being whether it was could be clearly pin pointed that Sonu played a major role in multiple murders committed.

Interestingly, both these issues had come before the court only in February 2012.

Speaking for the accused Mr.Ramachandran said that there were no previous criminal records pending against him and nor did he ever try to escape during the jail break even though he had a fair chance. In his opinion, the court had erroneously recorded that there were no circumstances in Sonu’s favour. The State had failed in discharging his duty of proving that the convict was beyond the realm of reformation.

Taking into account all the issues that came before the court, the judgment of 2012 was that even though Sonu was young, he had committed a crime which was pre-meditated and he was a threat to the society which was one among the rarest of the rare cases where death penalty was the appropriate punishment to be given.

Guidelines on Death Sentence & Mercy Petition

Ipsita Mishra

The Supreme Court, while deciding three recent cases, held that seven of its judgments awarding the death sentence were rendered per and contrary to the binding dictum of “rarest of rare” category propounded in the Constitution Bench judgment in Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab (1980) (2 SCC 684). The three recent cases were Santosh Kumar Bariyar vs State of Maharashtra (2009) (6 SCC 498), Dilip Tiwari vs State of Maharashtra (2010) (1 SCC 775), and Rajesh Kumar vs State (2011) (13 SCC 706). In this, they cited the landmark Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab, which laid down the “rarest of rare” doctrine.

Having understood the Bachan Singh judgment clearly, the Bariyar Bench had no compunction in exposing the flaws in the Ravji judgment. The Bench stated “We are not oblivious that Ravji case has been followed in at least six decisions of this court in which death punishment has been awarded in last nine years, but, in our opinion, it was rendered per incuriam.”The Bariyar Bench held: “It is apparent that Ravji has not only been considered but also relied upon as an authority on the point that in heinous crimes, circumstances relating to the criminal are not pertinent” (paragraph 63).

Pratibha Patil ide told Frontline: “She saw to it that the government has applied its mind, and due deliberations have taken place on every pending petition.”It clearly suggests that she was dissatisfied with the quality of advice tendered by Chidambaram’s predecessors on the pending mercy petitions. As her aide explained that more clarity is expected on the merits of her and the Home Ministry’s handling of mercy petitions when the Supreme Court, which is currently hearing the pleas of the five convicts against the rejection of mercy petitions by her, gives its verdict. Meanwhile, there is enough reason to believe that the legal safeguards aimed at avoiding the miscarriage of capital punishment have failed to deliver, and public opinion in India can no longer ignore the global movement in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. In an landmark judgement, the Supreme Court inordinate delay in deciding on mercy plea of a death row convict is sufficient ground for commutation of death sentence to life.

Chief Justice P.Sathasivam said”….Mercy petitions were disposed of more expeditiously in former days than in the present times. Mostly, until 1980, the mercy petitions were decided in minimum of 15 days and in 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”.
The cases like Vatheeswaran and Triveniben who are lodged in a Karnataka jail since 2004, were decided which gave way for developing the jurisprudence of commuting the death sentence based on undue delay. The court said that the government cannot keep mercy pleas pending for years. The court said that if there is a procedural lapse in deciding on the mercy plea of a death row convict then it can be a ground for commuting death sentence to life.

Death row convicts should not be placed under solitary confinement. They should be provided all legal aid if he/she wishes to submit a mercy plea. The court also mandated respective state governments to place necessary material before the Governor while sending the mercy plea. Once the mercy plea is rejected, it should be conveyed in writing to the convict, the court said. Though no time frame can be set for the President for disposal of the mercy petition but we can certainly request the concerned Ministry to follow its own rules rigorously which can reduce, to a large extent, the delay caused. Jurist Soli Sorabjee termed Death penalty as “correct and humane.”

Reference:

  1. Supreme Court
  2. The Hindu