Mercy petitions cannot be kept pending, says CJI

Mercy petitions cannot be kept pending, says CJI

Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam on Saturday defended last month’s Supreme Court verdict on mercy petitions stating that even a death row convict is entitled to protection under Article 21 of the Constitution.

“This (ruling) does not mean the court is showing leniency to people who have committed heinous crimes. Commuting death sentence to life can be done in cases of unexplained and undue delay in deciding mercy petitions,” he said.

In a landmark verdict on January 21, an apex court bench headed by the the chief justice of India had said 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 the mercy plea.

Sathasivam was speaking at a seminar on “Improving Criminal Investigation”, organised by Legally Speaking Trust in collaboration with the CBI.

A convict has right to plead for mercy and it is the court’s constitutional obligation to decide on it, he said.

“However, (mercy) petitions have been kept pending for more than ten years. Of the 15 convicts on death row (whose pleas were decided last month), two turned insane due to uncertainty (over their petitions). The petitions were not forwarded to the President,” Sathasivam said.

The apex court has also framed guidelines on the execution of death sentences. He said that as per the norms, convicts on death penalty must be informed about the rejection of their mercy pleas and given a chance to meet their family members before execution.

During arguments on mercy petitions, the Centre told the Supreme Court that there cannot be a timeframe for examining such pleas. While delivering the verdict, the bench gave life term to 15 death row inmates.

After the Delhi gang-rape case of December 2012, the Supreme Court had told courts that conviction in cases of sexual assault can be based on solitary testimony of the victim, he said.

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