We can re-consider death row mercy plea even after President's rejection: SC

New DelhiSupreme Court of India

A supreme Court bench on Thursday reaffirmed its authority to reopen death penalty cases after dismissal of mercy plea by the President, even as another bench said the court had created a "new jurisdiction" by entertaining such appeals.

In the first case, a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya dismissed a review petition by the Centre questioning the court's authority of judicial review over the President's constitutional power to allow or reject clemency petitions.

The government had sought a review of the court's decision to commute the death sentence of Assam murder convict Mahendra Nath Das to life term. The SC, in its verdict, had pointed out that former President Pratibha Patil, who rejected Das's mercy plea, was "kept in the dark" about the fact that her predecessor, A P J Abdul Kalam, had recommended clemency in the case. The court also took note of the delay in deciding the mercy petition.

Challenging the verdict, the Centre had held that the President's decision to reject the mercy petition was a sovereign act. "This sovereign act is performed after the courts have given their verdict and this sovereign act cannot be subjected to review by the courts... Once the mercy petition has been decided by the highest constitutional authority, the President of India, the courts should not allow re-opening of the case, as the case has achieved its finality (in judiciary)," it contended.

Overruling the government's views, the bench today said "...the judgment of which review has been sought does not suffer from any error... warranting its reconsideration. While disposing of the criminal appeal, this court followed the principles laid down in various precedents and took into consideration the fact that at one stage the President had recommended commutation of death sentence. Therefore, we do not find any valid ground to review judgment."

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