While delivering the judgment, the Court perused three grounds for substituting the punishment, namely, delay in adjudication of the mercy petition, solitary confinement and improper exercise of power.
The Division Bench of Justices GS Sistani and Vinod Goel enumerated the factors which render delay as a reason for commuting a death sentence:
- “ The delay must be unreasonable and unexplained or must be inordinate ;
- The delay attributable to the convict himself should be factored out as then any suffering was called upon by the convict himself
- The clock starts ticking from the confirmation of the death penalty by the Supreme Court and stops at the ‘nay’ of the President
- There cannot be any rule of thumb as to what amounts to inordinate delay in deciding the mercy petition and the same shall depend upon the facts of each case
- It is not incumbent upon the convict to show scars, i.e. the suffering in such delay is inherent and the condemned need not show any actual torment or misery
- The nature of the offence, gravity of the crime and circumstances attendant thereto are irrelevant as all the cases have already been found and confirmed to be ‘rarest of rare’ by numerous judicial forums and consequently, are bound to prick the judicial mind but the insertion of any new category, the ‘rarest of the rarest of rare’ if it may, is neither allowed by the English language nor law
- The Courts have frequently refused to judge delay in isolation, but with other supervening circumstances, looking into the ‘cumulative’ or ‘combined’ effect .”
The Court rejected the ground for delay in the present case and held,
“ It is clear that there are some specify period of delay wherein the respondents have failed to reasonably explain the delay. At the same time, we may note that it is not unexplained delay ipso facto, which entitles the convict to seek commutation of his sentence. It should also be unreasonable for it to vitiate the decision. That is not so in the present case .
Further, the total time taken in deciding the mercy petition was 2 years 2 months; this period by no means can be said to be inordinate. Consequently, this ground urged by the learned counsel for the petitioner is rejected .”
With respect to solitary confinement, the court stated that the convicts were housed in separate rooms with separate verandahs and separate toilets. This, they held, was clearly the first cousin of solitary confinement. The same was imposed in the absence of a judicial order, which the Court held was awry of the Fundamental Rights of the petitioner.
Regarding the last ground of improper exercise of power by the Governor and the President, counsel for the petitioner Dr . Yug Mohit Chaudhary submitted that the power under Article 72 and 161 was justifiable under a strict and narrow scope by the Constitutional Courts and that numerous relevant considerations were ignored by both the Central and State governments.
The Court observed,
- “ The relevant considerations of the mitigating circumstances, recommendation of the jail superintendent and the young age of the petitioner were not placed before the Governor depriving him of the opportunity to exercise his power in a fair and just manner .
- The mercy petition was processed in an extremely cavalier and casual fashion by the State Government at all stages, right upto placing the note for the Governor. It was all along treated as a petition seeking pre-mature release under an inapplicable rule of the Jail Manual. The Governor was informed that the petition is for pre-mature release and not commutation of sentence .
- The inputs received from the Superintendent of Police and the District Magistrate were extraneous considerations taken into account by the Governor. Even the relevant input of the Jail Superintendent was under the incorrect rule for the wrong purpose, which was wholly ignored by the State Government and relied upon by the Union Government .”
The Court held that the combined effect of the supervening circumstance and the ignorance of relevant considerations as well as consideration of extraneous material vitiated the decisions of the Governor and the President.
News Source- Bar&Bench;