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SCI commutes 15 death sentences; Judgment to be impactful in Prof. Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s case

January 21, 2014 | By

New Delhi, India (January 21, 2014): A constitutional bench of The Supreme Court of India (SCI) based on P. Sathasivam, Chief Justice of India (CJI), Ranjan Gogoi, J, and Shiva Kirti Singh, J, commuted death sentences of 15 death penalty convicts to life imprisonments on January 21, 2014. Death sentences of 13 convicts were commuted on ground of inordinate delay in execution, while two others were granted commutation on the ground of deteriorated mental health condition.

Free Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar

The decision has been welcomed by various anti-death penalty campaigners and human rights bodies including Amnesty International India.

The Supreme Court of India has noted many vital points in this judgment, which would work as a guideline for other cases as well.

It is believed that this judgment shall put positive impact on the case of Sikh political prisoner Prof. Devender Pal Singh Bhullar who has been on death row since 2001. It may be recalled that Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s clemency plea was rejected by division judge bench of Justice Singhvi and Justice Mukhopadhyay on April 12, 2012. Justice Singhvi had ruled that delay in execution did not form clemency ground for a convict under TADA. But in the recent judgment the constitutional bench of SCI has noted that the findings of Justice Singhvi in Prof. DPS Bhullar cases on this point were ‘per incuriam’ [characterized by lack of due regard to the law or the facts].

Did the judgment commuted Prof. Bhullar’s death sentence:

There has been concern among the global Sikh community that whether January 21, 2014 judgment has commuted death sentence of Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar? The answer is that the judgment has not per se commuted the death sentence of Prof. Bhullar. He is still on death row, BUT this judgment is considered to put positive impact on clemency plea for Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar.

What Next?

As per information the curative petition of Prof. Devender Pal Singh Bhullar is pending for hearing before the Supreme Court of India. So, after today’s judgment there are good chances of pleading the curative petition while expecting success in arguments.

In any case, another option is to move to the Supreme Court of India under Article 32 of the Indian constitutions requesting hearing of clemency grounds in Prof. Devender Pal Singh Bhullar’s case.

What are the relevant portions of the judgment?

Sikh Siyasat News (SSN) has identified some portions of this judgment that are relevant as regards the grounds of commutation of death sentence of Professor Devender Pal Singh Bhullar:

Para 64: … “we are of the view that the ratio laid down in Devender Pal Singh Bhullar (supra) is per incuriam”. … “There is no good reason to disqualify all TADA cases as a class from relief on account of delay in execution of death sentence. Each case requires consideration on its own facts.”

Para 69: “It is further clear that no one should be deprived of equality contained in Article 14 as also the right conferred by Article 21 of the Constitution regarding his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

Para 70: … “we are of the view that unexplained delay is one of the grounds for commutation of sentence of death into life imprisonment and the said supervening circumstance is applicable to all types of cases including the offences under TADA. The only aspect the courts have to satisfy is that the delay must be unreasonable and unexplained or inordinate at the hands of the executive”.

Para 78: “The above materials, particularly, the directions of the United Nations International Conventions, of which India is a party, clearly show that insanity/mental illness/schizophrenia is a crucial supervening circumstance, which should be considered by this Court in deciding whether in the facts and circumstances of the case death sentence could be commuted to life imprisonment. To put it clear, “insanity” is a relevant supervening factor for consideration by this Court”.

Para 79) “In addition, after it is established that the death convict is insane and it is duly certified by the competent doctor, undoubtedly, Article 21 protects him and such person cannot be executed without further clarification from the competent authority about his mental problems. It is also highlighted by relying on commentaries from various countries that civilized countries have not executed death penalty on an insane person. Learned counsel also relied on United Nations Resolution against execution of death sentence, debate of the General Assembly, the decisions of International Court of Justice, Treaties, European Conventions, 8th amendment in the United States which prohibits execution of death sentence on an insane person. In view of the well established laws both at national as well as international sphere, we are inclined to consider insanity as one of the supervening circumstances that warrants for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment”.

Para 134) “In the earlier part of our discussion, we have already held that the decision in Devender Pal Singh Bhullar (supra), holding that the cases pertaining to offences under TADA have to be treated differently and on the ground of delay in disposal of mercy petition the death sentence cannot be commuted, is per incuriam. Further, this Court in Yakub Memon vs. State of Maharashtra (Criminal Appeal No. 1728 of 2007) delivered on 21.03.2013 and in subsequent cases commuted the death sentence passed in TADA case to imprisonment for life”.


[Note: We recommend our readers/visitors to study the full text of judgment. Readers/Visitors are requested to bring to our knowledge if we have missed to highlight some of the relevant portions of the judgment here.]

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