CONDEMNED PRISONERS CANNOT FIGHT DEATH PENALTY ENDLESSLY: SC
Context: While hearing a plea to commute the death sentence of two convicts for killing a family of seven, the Supreme Court underlined that the “finality” of death sentence is extremely important and said that condemned prisoners should not be under the impression that the death penalty remains “open ended” and can be challenged all the time by them.
SUPREME COURTS OBSERVATION
- The death penalty, cannot be questioned at every turn by the convict. “One cannot go on fighting endlessly for everything.”
- The CJI said it was not for a judge to forgive a crime.
- The cardinal duty of a judge was to see if the punishment was proportionate to the crime. The law applied whether the criminal was a first-timer or a hardened one.
- “Courts punish crime. If you go by the innocence of a human being, the worst criminal would have an innocent heart. There is nobody who is a criminal at the depth of their heart… It is not the judge but the law that deals with a criminal.
- A judge, being a human being, cannot forgive a murderer. The law and the judge act for society.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN INDIA
- Capital punishmentis a legal death penalty in India.
- In December 2007, India voted against a United Nations General Assembly resolutioncalling for a moratorium on the death penalty.
- On 31 August 2015, the Law Commission of Indiasubmitted a report to the government which recommended the abolition of capital punishment for all crimes in India, excepting the crime of waging war against the nation or for terrorism-related offences.
- The report cited several factors to justify abolishing the death penalty, including its abolition by 140 other nations, its arbitrary and flawed application and its lack of any proven deterring effect on criminals.
LEGAL RECOURSE AVAILABLE TO DEATH ROW CONVICTS IN INDIA
Clemency and Mercy petition in the Indian Constitution
- After the award of the death sentence by a sessions (trial) court, the sentence must be confirmed by a High Courtto make it final.
- Once confirmed, the condemned convict has the option of appealing to the Supreme Court.
- Where the condemned prisoner is unable to appeal to the Supreme Court; or where the court either refuses to hear the appeal or upholds the death sentence, the prisoner also has the option of submitting a ‘mercy petition’ to the President of India and the Governor of the State.
Power of the President or Executive Clemency
- The present day constitutional clemency powers of the President and Governors originate from the Government of India Act 1935.
- In Sriharan Murugan v. Union of India, (2014) case the Supreme Court reiterated that the clemency procedure under Article 72/161 provides a ray of hope to the condemned prisoners and his family members for commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment.
- Therefore, the executive should step up and exercise its time honored tradition of clemency power of guaranteed in the constitution one way or the other within a reasonable time.
Article 72(1) of the Constitution of India states:
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.
- Executions only kill criminals, not the crime.
- The State must persistently work towards systematic reforms to bring about change.
- No study has so far proved that death sentence serves as a better deterrence than life imprisonment.
What is the legal recourse available to death row convicts in India? (20 marks)