Tamil Nadu on Thursday strongly supported in the Supreme Court the statutory right of the Executive to suspend or remit sentences of convicts. The apex court, on the other hand, felt that there was need to curb the unbridled powers enjoyed by states and Union Territories under the criminal procedure code for granting remissions.
"If the court asks Executive not to consider suspending or remitting sentences of convicts then it would amount to denial of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution," the counsel for Tamil Nadu told a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu.
"The right to be considered for remission or stay of sentence is the part of fundamental right to life. If there is no scope for any hope then it would be the breach of the fundamental right," senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for Tamil Nadu, told the bench which also comprised justices FMI Kalifulla, Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, Abhay Manohar Sapre and UU Lalit.
The bench then said that the assertion can certainly be "justified" if courts say "life means entire life" and hence, "closes the door for clemency" from the Governor and the President.
Enumerating conditions for grant of remission or suspension of sentence by the executives under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) would not amount to violation of fundamental right, it said.
"Lordships are closing the main door," the senior lawyer said.
The bench is going into the maintainability of the Centre's petition opposing Tamil Nadu government's decision to set free the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case after remitting their life sentences.
Besides the maintainability of the plea, the bench would also decide whether the sentence of a prisoner, whose death penalty has been commuted to life, can be remitted by the state government.
It would also decide whether life term meant jail term for rest of the life or a convict has a right to claim remission.
Earlier, Tamil Nadu had told the court that the state governments can on their own decide to suspend or remit sentences of convicts and the statutory powers to grant mercy to them is not dependent on conditions.
Supreme Court voices concern
The Supreme Court, on the other hand, voiced its concern over governments granting remission to convicts on the birthdays of political leaders without considering the impact of their actions on the victims of crime and said such executive directives should be subjected to judicial scrutiny.
The Constitution bench, examining the Tamil Nadu governments’ decision to prematurely release 7 convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, felt there was a need to curb the unbridled powers enjoyed by states and Union Territories under the criminal procedure code for granting remissions.
Speaking aloud, the CJI said restriction on the executive’s power was necessary to strike a balance between the convicts’ right and that of the victims and society.
The Jayalalitha government had last year ordered the premature release within days of the top court commuting death sentence of three convicts to life imprisonment on the ground there was an inordinate delay on the part of the executive in deciding their mercy plea.
(With inputs from PTI)