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Mains Answer Writing

1-November-2023

1. The public has debated instances in which the President’s failure to commute death sentences has resulted in a denial of justice. Should the President be given a deadline to approve or reject these petitions? Evaluate.

ANSWER

  • According to Article 72 of the Constitution, the President may pardon, reprieve, respite, or remit punishment, as well as suspend, remit, or commute the sentence of any individual found guilty of a crime for which the maximum punishment is death.

DELAYS AND ISSUES RELATED TO THEM

  1. The advantage to convicts: Prisoners on death row were taking advantage of inordinate delays by seeking commutation of their punishment to a life sentence, thereby defeating the purpose of a death sentence.
  2. Arbitrary exercise of powers: It is a clear contravention of the provision of ‘due process’ vis-à-vis “procedure established by law” under Article 21.
  3. Systemic torture and injustice towards the convict.– When the President or Governor delays a decision on a mercy petition, the convict is kept in suspense and this creates a lot of mental trauma amounting to torture which is against Article 21.
  4. Resource wastage: Inexplicable and unwarranted delays in executing justice leads to the wastage of resources of the State.

SHOULD THERE BE TIME LIMIT?

  1. Article 14 guarantees every citizen equality before the law irrespective of the person’s innocence or guilt. The Constitution clearly confers a right on the convict and a lawful obligation on the president to duly consider the mercy petition and consider them without any delay.
  2. The petitions filed by the convicts are a constitutional remedy, not an act of grace or mercy. Hence as such the President is bound to act on these petitions within a reasonable time.
  3. In Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India, it has been held that mercy petitions must be disposed of in a reasonable manner with diligence but no time frame has been set considering the high office of the Pr esident.
  4. The Supreme Court in the above-mentioned case also stated that inordinate delays in taking a decision on mercy petitions are a ground for commutation of the sentence.
  5. The implementation of a time limitation will ensure that the President or Governor, as the case may be, act in compliance with the advice tendered to them by the Council of Ministers.
  • However, constitutional makers also did not impose any time limit on the President to take decisions on mercy petitions. Our Constitutional structure envisions a separation of power structure.
  • Regular interventions by the judiciary even for bona fide reasons, are not beneficial for the smooth running of the democratic setup. It is the duty of the president to perform their job without forcing the courts of law to intervene every time for remedy.
  • A reasonable, time-bound procedure of disposing of mercy petitions is the need of the hour to increase justice delivery and efficiency. However, this reasonable time should not be too short as justice hurried is no justice at all and Too muchdelay will amount to ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.
  • This is a double-edged sword and there is a need for keeping an optimum balance between the rights of the convict to prevent trauma and miscarriage of justice while deciding on this reasonable time for disposing of mercy petitions.

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