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Read judgment: SC commutes 15 death penalties on constitional grounds over 'whims of executive'

A Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh, commuted the death penalty sentence of 15 prisoners to life in prison, after finding that they had waited for a governmental pardon for too long, reported the PTI.

In the judgment, the bench held, that the right to seek mercy was a constitutional right not at the “discretion or whims of the executive”:

263) It is well established that exercising of power under Article 72/161 by the President or the Governor is a constitutional obligation and not a mere prerogative. Considering the high status of office, the Constitutional framers did not stipulate any outer time limit for disposing the mercy petitions under the said Articles, which means it should be decided within reasonable time. However, 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. 

264) 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. 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.

Read the full judgment (PDF 470KB)

The judges also said that solitary confinement was "certainly a form of torture", reiterating its previous judgments on the matter. While it declined to make any order relating to solitary confinement in the present cases, it noted:

keeping a prisoner in solitary confinement is contrary to the ruling in Sunil Batra (supra) and would amount to inflicting “additional and separate” punishment not authorized by law. It is completely unfortunate that despite enduring pronouncement on judicial side, the actual implementation of the provisions is far from reality.

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