27 January 2014Inordinate and unreasonable delay in execution of death sentence is violative of Right to Life, which is the most fundamental of all rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and entails as a ground for commutation of capital punishment to life term, the Supreme Court today held.
“…We are of the cogent view that undue, inordinate and unreasonable delay in execution of death sentence does certainly attribute to torture which indeed is in violation of Article 21 (Right to Life) and thereby entails as the ground for commutation of sentence,” a bench of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh said.
“However, the nature of delay i.e. whether it is undue or unreasonable must be appreciated based on the facts of individual cases and no exhaustive guidelines can be framed in this regard,” the bench added.
The apex court made the observations while commuting the death sentence of 15 death row convicts to life term on grounds of delay in deciding their mercy plea by the government or delay in execution or mental illness caused due to prolonged incarceration.
While reaching the conclusion, the bench said it was conscious of the fact that while Article 21 is the paramount principle on which rights of the convicts are based, it must be considered along with the rights of the victims or the deceased???s family as also societal consideration since these elements form part of the sentencing process as well.
The bench also said that, “Keeping a convict in suspense while consideration of his mercy petition by the President for many years is certainly an agony for him/her. It creates adverse physical conditions and psychological stresses on the convict under sentence of death.
“Indisputably, this court, while considering the rejection of the clemency petition by the President, under Article 32 read with Article 21 of the Constitution, cannot excuse the agonising delay caused to the convict only on the basis of the gravity of the crime.”
Relying on various judgements, the bench said, “we hold that undue long delay in execution of sentence of death will entitle the condemned prisoner to approach this Court under Article 32 (Remedies for enforcement of rights).
“However, this court will only examine the circumstances surrounding the delay that has occurred and those that have ensued after sentence was finally confirmed by the judicial process.”
It said the court cannot reopen the conclusion already reached but may consider the question of inordinate delay to decide whether the execution of sentence should be carried out or should be altered into imprisonment for life.
Source: Outlook India, January 21, 2014