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SG tells SC death penalty constitution bench: No further mercy pleas after President's rejection

The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that after a mercy petition by a death row convict is rejected by the President, it cannot be moved afresh before the governor of a state unless there were entirely new grounds.

Telling this to the Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice HL Dattu, Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar said that unless this was halted at some point, the President’s decision to reject a mercy petition would not attain finality.

Describing the law as “unsound”, the Solicitor General told the court that a death row convict may move the governor on fresh grounds but it will not be backed by law.

The Solicitor General made the submission after he was asked whether a death row convict could seek mercy from the governor for the second time.

The question raised by the bench assumes significance in the wake of a fresh mercy petition filed by 1993 Mumbai bomb blast death row convict Yakub Memon before the Maharashtra governor after his curative petition was rejected by the apex court on Tuesday.

Finding some ambiguity in the procedure, the court asked the Solicitor General if it should lay guidelines in this regard or was there a procedure formulated by the home ministry.

The Solicitor General said that after the executive actions - the President or governor deciding on a mercy petition - and the apex court deciding the matter and commuting the death sentence, there should be no further question of remission of sentence of the convict.

The bench was hearing a reference by a three-judge bench on the question whether after the commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment, the state government could further grant remission of sentence to release the assassins of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

One of the seven questions framed by the bench of then chief justice P Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice NV Ramana in their April 25, 2014, judgment was whether after commutation of the death sentence, the government can go further granting them remission and releasing them.

The question was rooted in the conflicting positions taken by the Centre and the Tamil Nadu governments on whether Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins or similarly placed convicts be granted remission and consequent release.

The Constitution bench was further asked to examine whether there could be a special category wherein after death penalty has been commuted, such a convict is put beyond the applicability of remission of sentence and he would remain behind bars in excess of a life term of 14 years.

Click here to read more about the Supreme Court’s recent death penalty jurisprudence.

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