President’s office yet to take call on ex-judges’ plea to commute death penalty of 13 convicts

Convicts 'erroneously' sentenced, says letter sent to President in July 2012.

With President Pranab Mukherjee clearing the way for execution of two convicts in terror cases in less than three months' time, a group of 14 former judges from high courts and the Supreme Court expects him to take a call soon on its demand to commute the death sentence of 13 convicts "erroneously" awarded capital punishment.

Having sent the letter in July 2012, highlighting the apex court's admission about "wrong judgment" in seven different cases, the group, which includes five former HC chief justices, is yet to get any official response from the President's office.

The letter, which was endorsed by Pune-based former Supreme Court judge P B Sawant and former Bombay High Court judge B G Kolse-Patil among others, stated that the execution of convicts "wrongly sentenced to death" would severely undermine the credibility of the criminal justice system and the authority of the state to carry out such punishments in future.

The letter mentioned reported admission by the Supreme Court on "three different occasions" that seven decisions awarding death sentences were rendered "per incuriam (in ignorance) and contrary to the binding dictum of rarest of rare propounded in the constitution bench judgment in Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab (1980)".

"None of these cases involve crimes against the State. Further, the concerns raised in this appeal have nothing to do with the larger debate about the desirability of retaining the death penalty. Rather, they pertain to the administration of death penalty in a conscientious, fair and just manner," the letter read.

Speaking to The Indian Express, both Sawant and Kolse-Patil said they had not received any official response from the President's office to their letter till date.

"The issue we had raised through our letter is directly related to our Constitution since it involves awarding capital punishment on the basis of erroneous judgments, as accepted by the apex court," Kolse-Patil said, demanding that death penalty should be abolished on the lines of other countries.

The signatories

A P Shah (former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court); B A Khan (former Chief Justice, Jammu and Kashmir High Court); Bilal Nazki (former Chief Justice, Orissa High Court); P K Misra (former Chief Justice, Patna High Court); S N Bhargava (former Chief Justice, Sikkim High Court); B H Marlapalle (former Judge, Bombay High Court); Hosbet Suresh (former Judge, Bombay High Court); Prabha Sridevan (former Judge, Madras High Court); K P Sivasubramaniam (former Judge, Madras High Court); Ranvir Sahai Verma (former Judge, Rajasthan High Court); P C Jain (former Judge, Rajasthan High Court); and Panachand Jain (former Judge, Rajasthan High Court)

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