Decide on mercy petitions quickly: SC tells govt

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has said the government has a duty to decide on the mercy petitions of those sentenced to death by courts without much delay.

Government's failure to act on mercy petitions would amount to doing injustice to convicts whose sentence may be converted to life imprisonment, the apex court said, while upholding the death sentence on Jagdish who murdered his wife and five children in Manasa district of Madhya Pradesh.

Citing a number of its earlier observations, the apex court said that if there was excessive delay in executing the death sentence or disposing of the mercy petitions by the government, then the prisoner is entitled to his sentence of death commuted to life imprisonment, as otherwise it would violative of Article 21 (right to liberty).

The apex court had said in 1971 in the Vivian Rodrick vs West Bengal case "it seems to us that the extremely excessive delay in the disposal of the case of the appellant would, by itself, be sufficient for imposing a lesser sentence of imprisonment for life under Section 302".

"The observations reproduced above become extremely relevant as of today on account of the pendency of 26 mercy petitions before the President of India, in some cases, where the Courts had awarded the death sentences more than a decade ago."

Bureau Report