Very recently we heard the word ‘Mercy Petition’ in news all over, it was because of the petition filed by one of the convicts of the nirbhaya case to the president for granting mercy upon him, which was rejected. Now what actually mercy petition is? Who can file them? Who can grant them? What is the purpose? What is the procedure? In this article I am going to answer all these questions.
What actually Mercy Petition is?
As per the Constitutional framework of India, mercy petition to the President is the endmost constitutional resort to a convict, when he has been penalized by the court of law. A convict can present a mercy petition to the President of India under Article 72 of the Constitution of India.
The grant of pardon by the President is an act of grace and, thus, one cannot claimed it as a matter of right.
Under the same manner, the power to grant pardon is conferred upon the Governors of States under Article 161 of the Constitution of India.
Article 72 provides:
(1) The President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence—
(a) in all cases where the punishment or sentence is by a Court Martial;
(b) in all cases where the punishment or sentence is for an offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the Union extends;
(c) in all cases where the sentence is a sentence of death.
Thus, Article 72 empowers the President to grant pardons, etc., and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in particular cases.
Article 161 Provides:
Power of Governor to grant pardons, etc, and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases The Governor of a State shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the State extends.
Now what does the words Pardon, Reprieve, Respite, Remission, Commute mean in the above given Articles?
Pardon – Pardon completely absolves the offender from all the sentences and punishment and disqualification and places him in the position as if he has never committed the offence.
Reprieve – It means temporary suspension of death sentence.
Respite – Awarding a lesser punishment on some special grounds.
Remission – Reduction in amount of sentence without changing its character.
Commute – Exchange from one punishment to other. It means replacement of one form of punishment for another of lighter character.
What Is The Purpose Of Granting Pardons?
Pardon may significantly help in saving an guiltless person from being penalized due to failure of justice or in cases of uncertain conviction.The hope of being pardoned itself is an incentive for the convict to conduct himself in the prison and thus, helps substantially in solving the issue of prison discipline.The object of pardoning power is to correct the possible judicial errors, as for no human system of judicial administration can be totally free from imperfections.
Who can file a Mercy Petition?
A convict who is under the sentence of death is allowed to file a mercy petition within a specific period of seven days after the date on which the Superintendent of Jail informs him about the rejection of the appeal or special leave to appeal by the Supreme Court.
What is the procedure of filing a Mercy Petition?
The process begin with filing a mercy petition with the President under Article 72 of the Constitution. The petition is then sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Central Government for inspection. The petition is then discussed by the Home Ministry in deliberation with the concerned State Government. After the deliberation, suggestion are made by the Home Minister and then the petition is again sent to the President. The advice and suggestions binds the President.
To Whom The Mercy Petition Is Made?
The mercy petition can be made to both president and the governor. Now, what distinguishes the two?
The extent of the pardoning power of the President under Article 72 is broader than the pardoning power of the Governor under Article 161. The power vary in the following two ways:
- The power of the President to grant pardon expands in the cases where the punishment or sentence is by a Court Martial but Article 161 does not impart any such power to the Governor.
- The President can grant pardon in all the cases where the sentence given is sentence of death but the pardoning power of Governor does not stretch to death sentence cases.
The pardoning power under the Judicial Review
The mercy petition is however upon the discretion of the president and governor and the convict cannot claim it as a right. The case of Ranga Billa [i] in the Supreme Court was called upon to decide the nature and ambit of the pardoning power of the President of India under Article 72 of the Constitution. In this case, the death sentence of one of the appellants was confirmed by the Supreme Court and mercy petition was also rejected by the President. Then, appellant filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the discretion of the President to grant pardon on the ground that no reasons were provided for rejection of his mercy petition. The court rejected the petition and stated that the term “pardon” itself signifies that it is entirely a discretionary remedy and grant and the rejection of it need not to be reasoned.
The Supreme Court once again in Kehar Singh v Union of India [ii] restated its earlier stand and held that the grant of pardon by the President is an act of grace and, therefore it cannot be claimed as a matter of right. The power exercisable by the President is exclusively of administrative nature, and is not justiciable.
Edited by Pushpamrita Roy
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] State vs Jasbir Singh @ Billa And Kuljeet, ILR 1979 Delhi 571
[ii] 1988 SCR Supl. (3)1102