Mercy petition on account of violation of Article 21 of India Constitution

In The Supreme Court of India
Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction
Case No.
Writ Petition (Criminal) no. 55 of 2013
Appellants
Shatrughan Chauhan & Anr.
Respondent
Union of India & ors.
Date of Judgement
Decided on 21 Jan, 2014
Bench
Hon'ble Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh

Synopsis:

A writ petition was filed under Art.32 of the Indian constitution in the Supreme Court by the family members of two convicts who have been awarded death sentence. They were convicted for murder according to section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. Both the Allahabad High court and the Supreme Court confirmed them death sentence.

They filed mercy petitions addressing the governor as well as the president which were rejected and further they were not informed regarding the rejection of their petitions by the concerned authorities and there was an undue, unreasonable, and prolonged delay in disposal of their mercy petition.

The family members of the convicts filed the Writ petition under Art.32 of the Indian Constitution to declare the execution of death sentence after the rejection of Mercy Petition as unconstitutional and further to commute the death sentence.

It was held that undue and inordinate delay of 12 long years in execution of death sentence attributes to violation of fundamental rights under Art.21 of the Indian Constitution and the death sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life and the court gave certain directions and guidelines to be followed with regard to the execution of death sentence.

In the previous cases of Bhallur vs. NCT and the Triveniben case it was held that delay need not be a ground for commutation but this was over ruled in the given case.

Facts

Mr. Shatrughan Chauhan and Mahinder Chauhan were the family members of the convicted prisoners of death sentence. They filed a Writ petition under Art.32 of the Indian constitution their mercy petition addressed to the President and the Governor were rejected and there was undue, unreasonable and prolonged delay in disposal of their mercy petitions.

As held in the case of R D Shetty vs. International Airport Authority, that no matter, whether the violation of fundamental rights arises out of an executive or legislature action or inaction, Art.32 can be utilized to enforce the fundamental rights.

The deaths sentenced were convicted for the criminal offence of murder under Section 302 of IPC. The Allahabad High court confirmed their conviction and death sentence and subsequently the Supreme Court dismissed their criminal appeal.

They filed for the mercy petitions addressing the President and the Governor which were rejected and they were not informed regarding their rejected petitions by the concerned authorities and there was a prolonged delay of 12 long years in the disposal of their mercy petitions.

The petitioners contended that the rejection of the mercy petition by the President is unconstitutional and to commute the death sentence to imprisonment for life.

Issues

a. Whether delay in the execution would amount to violation of fundamental rights under Art.21 of the Indian Constitution.

b. Whether delay in the execution is a sufficient ground for commutation of sentence.

Arguments

Arguments in favour of Petitioners:

The arguments advanced by the petitioners include the following:

  • Exercise of constitutional powers vested under Art.72 (Powers of the president to grant pardons, and to suspend remit or commute sentences in certain cases) and Art.161 (Powers of the Governors to grant pardons, and to suspend remit or commute sentences in certain cases) has violated the fundamental rights of the convicted.
  • An inordinate delay in execution of death sentence would infringe the Right to Life under Art.21 of the Indian Constitution. The convict can thus approach the Supreme Court under Art.32 as his Right to life is being violated due to the executive actions.
  • Prolonged delay causes physical and psychological agony which leads to torture in this regard execution of death sentence would be inhuman and against the well-established canons of human right.
  • Human life is sacred and inviolable and every effort should be made to protect it.
  • The Right of a victim to a fair investigation under Art.21 has been recognized in the case of State of West Bengal vs. Committee of democratic rights, West Bengal.

Arguments advanced in favour of the Respondents:

  • Gathering the details and such other relevant documents from the State/Prison authorities for considering the mercy petition is a time consuming process that involves protracted correspondence with the prison authorities and the state Government.
  • The extensive examination of pros and cons of the gathered documents and arriving at a decision after thorough examination of the facts is a time taking task.
  • 72 of the Indian Constitution envisages no prescribed time limit for the disposal of Mercy Petitions.
  • Repeated petitions from different members of the family add to delay.
  • The powers of the president under Art.72 of the Indian constitution are discretionary and cannot be entailed due to delay.
  • Decision from President Passes to State Government/Union Territory and then to the concerned prison and the to the prisoners thus leading to delay.
  • Death sentence is generally imposed on persons accused of heinous crimes therefore delay cannot lead to commutation of the punishment so imposed.

Judgement:

The Court considered the Procedural Lapses as a supervening event and thus commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment. Further it dealt with each writ separately and came to a conclusion that unexplained delay of twelve years, nine years or even seven years can be counted as supervening event.

Added to this it was held that the crimes committed by the petitioners could be heinous but the court kept Article 21 of the Indian Constitution above all and concluded that these prisoners are humans too and these unexplained delay have caused them torture.

The court in this case overruled the verdict in cases of Devinderpal Singh Bhullar and Triveniben’s case where it was held that delay is no ground for the commutation of sentence.

The court further gave guidelines for effective governing of the procedure of filing mercy petitions and for the cause of the death convicts. They include:

  • Solitary Confinement: In the case of Sunil Batra, solitary confinement was held unconstitutional prior to rejection of the mercy petition by the President. Thus the Court provided reasonable guidelines so that Article 21 cannot be countered.
  • Legal aid: : Every prisoner is entitled to legal aid under Article 21 till his last breath and rejection or no rejection by the President of his plea does not take away that right.
  • The Court prescribed an elaborate procedure with regard to the placing of the mercy petition before the President.
  • The Rejection of Mercy Petition by the Governor should be informed to the convict and his family in writing or through some other modes of communication.
  • Minimum 14 day’s notice for execution: It allows the prisoners to prepare themselves mentally for execution, to prepare his will and to settle other earthly affairs. It allows the prisoners to have a last and final meeting with his family members.
  • Regular mental health evaluation of the death convicts and appropriate medical care should be given to those in need.
  • The rejection of the mercy petition by the President should be communicated to the convict and his family in writing.
  • Death convicts are entitled to the right to receive a copy of the rejection of the mercy petition by the President or the Governor.
  • Proper Physical and Mental Health Reports
  • The documents should be provided to the convicts. These documents are needed for the preparation of appeals, mercy petitions and accessing post-mercy judicial remedies which are available to the prisoners under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • It is made necessary for prison authorities to facilitate and allow a final meeting between the prisoner and his family and friends prior to his execution.
  • Post mortem reports have been made mandatory.

Case Comment

Retribution has no Constitutional value in our largest democratic nation. In a country like India, even an accused is entitled to de facto protection under the Constitution and it is the Court’s duty to shield and protect the same.

As the death sentence was passed lawfully by the court, the execution of the sentence should be compatible with the constitutional mandate and should not be violative of the constitutional principles.

Further the delay caused in disposing the mercy petition is unreasonable and inordinate therefore it is the duty of the court to step in and consider this aspect.

Therefore, the court has rightly commuted the death sentence to life time imprisonment in this case as the convicts are kept under the shadow of death for years together that inflicts inevitable mental agony that accompanies waiting for an inevitable death, demeans individual dignity.

Edited by J. Madonna Jephi

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje

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I'm Sree Ramya, a Law graduate from the University College of Law, Osmania University. The sphere of Criminal Law, Corporate Law, Constitutional Law, and Environmental Law attracts me the most. My pastime activities are reading books, playing chess, watching movies, and writing poems on contemporary social issues. Other than this I participate in almost all literary competitions and I enjoy attending seminars and conferences. Most importantly I am a good listener with a lot of patience.