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India: SC commutes death sentences of 15 to life imprisonments; 13 for delay in execution, 2 on mental health grounds

January 21, 2014 | By

New Delhi, India (January 21, 2014): As per recent media reports the Supreme Court of India commuted the sentences of 15 death row convicts on January 21, 2013. The SCI commuted these sentences while ruling that delays in their execution were grounds to change their sentences to life imprisonment.

“Delay is a grounds for commuting death penalty to life sentence,” read a ruling from the court, which said mental illness and solitary confinement could also be reasons for commuting sentences.

Today’s verdict is likely to impact the case of three men from Tamil Nadu convicted for the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Their mercy plea was filed 11 years ago with the President’s office.
They were scheduled to hang in September, 2011, but the executions were stayed.
The President of India’s powers in deciding clemency petitions are limited.
The recommendation of the home ministry can be returned for reconsideration — but only once, after which the president is constitutionally obliged to follow the ministry’s lead.

However, there is no set time limit for providing the presidential signature, leaving room for endless delays.

There had been widespread inconsistency among the judicial pronouncements before today’s judgement. In 2013 the Supreme Court of India pronounced two decisions rejecting clemency pleas of Sikh political prisoner Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar while allowing similar plea of M. N. Das.

It is notable that some media sections have reported that today’s judgement shall have positive impact on Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s case for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment. The Sikh Siyasat News (SSN) is awaiting the copy of today’s order to check the implications of decision on Professor Devender Pal Singh Singh Bhullar’s case.

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