Sunday, April 14, 2013

SC rejects Bhullar’s mercy plea for commutation of death penalty

Supreme Court rejects Bhullar's mercy plea

NEW DELHI, April 12, 2013

PTI

Supreme Court:
Supreme Court: "Petitioners failed to make out a case for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment on grounds of delay."

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) terrorist Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar's plea for commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment on ground of delay in deciding his mercy plea.

Delivering the verdict in a packed courtroom, a bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya said that the petitioners failed to make out a case for commutation of sentence.

Today's decision will pave the way for his hanging and is likely to have an impact on 17 other convicts on the death row, including those held guilty in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

Bhullar's Canada-based wife, Navneet Kaur, who was present in the court when the bench read out two sentences of the operative portion of their verdict, looked dejected and refused to respond to questions from reporters as she left the court premises.

The Supreme Court had reserved its order on April 19, 2012, on the plea of Bhullar's family, which had filed a petition on his behalf pleading that his capital punishment be commuted to life imprisonment as there has been "inordinate" delay in deciding his mercy plea and he is not mentally sound.

It was submitted that prolonged incarceration of a death row convict awaiting his/her execution amounted to cruelty and violated the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Bhullar was awarded death penalty for triggering a bomb blast in Delhi in September 1993, killing nine people and injuring 25 others, including then Youth Congress president M.S. Bitta.

The Supreme Court had on March 26, 2002, dismissed Bhullar's appeal against the death sentence awarded by a trial court in August 2001 and endorsed by the Delhi High Court in 2002.

He had filed a review petition, which was also dismissed on December 17, 2002. Bhullar had then moved a curative petition, which too had been rejected by the Supreme Court on March 12, 2003.

Bhullar, meanwhile, had filed a mercy petition before the President on January 14, 2003. The President, after a lapse of over eight years, dismissed his mercy plea on May 25, 2011.

Courtesy_

Also read the related Editorial

A lost opportunity

April 13, 2013

In declining to interfere with the President's rejection of the clemency petition of Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, the Supreme Court has lost an opportunity to invoke the sound legal principle that prolonged delay in disposal of mercy petitions could be a key ground for commuting the death penalty. 


Although a 1989 Constitution Bench in the Triveniben case had leaned towards the view that there could be no hard and fast rule on what constitutes a delay so unacceptable that a death sentence should be converted to one of life, it did note that "the only delay which would be material for consideration will be the delay in disposal of the mercy petitions or delays occurring at the instance of the executive." 

Since the President took over eight years to dispose of Bhullar's mercy plea, this was surely a fit case for the Supreme Court to exercise judicial discretion in favour of commutation. 

Instead, the two-judge Bench chose to take the view that the rule that prolonged delay may be one of the grounds for commutation cannot be invoked in terrorism cases. 

The reasoning is curious since it is already settled law in India that the death penalty will apply only in the "rarest of rare" circumstances and only those cases reach the stage of clemency where the crime committed fits that description. It is surely tautological, then, to cite the enormity of the crime as the ground for denying mercy.

Though Bhullar evidently showed little mercy to the targets of his attack that left nine dead and 17 others injured in Delhi in 1993, the fact that the apex court confirmed his death sentence nine years later in a 2-1 verdict in which one judge actually voted to acquit him of the crime should make us all pause and think. 

In its order on Friday, the Supreme Court acknowledged "considerable delay" in disposal of Bhullar's mercy petition, but also noted that a substantial part of the delay was due to the unending spate of petitions on Bhullar's behalf. 

In the process, it has brushed aside an argument in the prisoner's favour based on his present mental condition, saying the documents produced were not enough to conclude that his mental health has deteriorated to such an extent that the sentence could not be executed. 

The power of pardon resides in a higher constitutional domain in which the executive is free to come to its own conclusion based on an assessment of the totality of circumstances. 

If the exercise of such a higher power is marked by unexplained delay and leads to prolonged incarceration under the shadow of the noose, then that must be grounds for commutation regardless of the crime committed. 

The ultimate solution, of course, lies in abolishing the death penalty.

Courtesy_

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This Blog Spot is meant for publishing landmark judgments pronounced by the Court of law as we collected from the renowned Dailies, Magazines, etc., so as to create an awareness to the general public and also to keep it as a ready reckoner by them. As such the readers may extend their gratitude towards the Original Author as we quoted at the bottom of each Post under the title "Courtesy/Sources". Furthermore, the Blog Authors are no way responsible for the correctness of the materials published herein and the readers may verify the concerned valuable sources.



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