Mercy petitions must be disposed of in reasonable time: SC

The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that the power of President and Governor to grant mercy to death row convicts is a Constitutional obligation and must be exercised within reasonable time.

In a significant verdict, a three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said even though the power of the President and the Governor given under Article 72 and 161 of the Constitution was independent of judiciary, their decision could be subject to judicial review in view of delay among other reasons.

“When the delay caused in disposing the mercy petitions is seen to be unreasonable, unexplained and exorbitant, it is the duty of this court to step in and consider this aspect.

Right to seek for mercy under Article 72/161 of the Constitution is a constitutional right and not at the discretion or whims of the executive. Every Constitutional duty must be fulfilled with due care and diligence; otherwise judicial interference is the command of the Constitution for upholding its values,” the bench, also comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh, said.

Dealing with 13 petitions filed by death row convicts, the court said that our Constitution provided de facto protection to even a condemned prisoner and judiciary could intervene to uphold his right.

“Remember, retribution has no Constitutional value in our largest democratic country. In India, even an accused has a de facto protection under the Constitution and it is the Court’s duty to shield and protect the same,” the bench said.

“Therefore, we make it clear that when the judiciary interferes in such matters, it does not really interfere with the power exercised under Article 72/161 but only to uphold the de facto protection provided by the Constitution to every convict including death convicts,” the court added.

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