In a landmark judgment Supreme Court held that delay in disposing mercy petition is a ground to commute the capital sentence in to Imprisonment for Life. Court Commuted death sentence of 15 condemned prisoners including four aides of Veerappan and Rajiv Gndhi assassins to life term mainly on ground of delay in deciding their mercy plea by the government.
The Supreme Court also held that a death convict must be hanged within 14 days after dismissal of his mercy petition. The Court overruled the two Judge Bench judgments in Bhullar Case which rejected the mercy petition filed by Devinder Singh Bhullar.
The Highlights of the Judgment
Death convict and his family members must be informed after his mercy plea is rejected by the President or governor
Condemned prisoners must be given a chance to meet their family members before execution of death sentence
A death convict must be hanged within 14 days after dismissal of his mercy petition
Legal aid be provided inside jail to the condemned prisoners
Solitary confinement of a death convict and other prisoners is unconstitutional
Death sentence of a condemned prisoner cannot be executed if he is suffering from mental illness and schizophrenia and must be commuted to life sentence.
In Devender Pal Singh Bhullar v. State Of N.C.T. Of Delhi the convict appealed to the President for clemency in 2003. The President, after a lapse of over eight years, dismissed his mercy plea in 2011. Bhullar had sought commutation of his death penalty to life sentence by the Supreme Court on the ground that there was inordinate delay by the President over his plea for clemency. A two Judge Bench [G.S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya.JJ] by order dated 12th April 2013 dismissed his plea by holding that long delay as one of the grounds for commutation of the sentence of death into life imprisonment cannot be invoked in cases where a person is convicted for offence under TADA or similar statutes. Two weeks later in Mahendra Nath Das v. Union of India the same bench held that the convict’s death sentence could be commuted to life imprisonment because much of the inordinate delay of 12 years in the rejection of his mercy petition by the President was unexplained, and there-fore, inexcusable.
Earlier it was in Triveni Ben v. State of Gujarat a constitution bench held that that undue long delay in execution of the sentence of death will entitle the condemned person to approach this Court under Article 32 but the Court will only examine the nature of delay caused and circumstances that ensued after sentence was finally confirmed by the judicial process and will have no jurisdiction to reopen the conclusions reached by the court while finally maintaining the sentence of death. Court, however, may consider the question of inordinate delay in the light of all circumstances of the case to decide whether the execution of sentence should be carried out or should be altered into imprisonment for life. No fixed period of delay could be held to make the sentence of death inexecutable.