INDIA: SC COMMUTES DEATH PENALTY OF 15 CONVICTS DUE TO DELAY, MENTAL ILLNESS
|The Supreme Court in New Delhi
January 21, 2014: In a landmark and significant judgement, the Supreme Court commuted death penalty of 15 convicts on the grounds of inordinate delay and mental illness. The apex court said the death penalty can be commuted when there is an inordinate and inexplicable delay in deciding the mercy plea of the convicts.
While the death penalty of 13 convicts has been commuted to life on the ground of inordinate delay on part of President to decide their mercy pleas, two others were given life sentence after they became mentally ill after several years on death row. Over 20 death row convicts had approached Supreme Court seeking an authoritative ruling on the matter.
The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court commuted death sentence of four aides of forest brigand Veerappan to life term on ground of delay in deciding their mercy plea by the government.
The four Veerappan gang members, convicted for killing 22 policemen in April 1993, are Simon, Gnana Prakash, Madaiah and Bilavendra. They were sentenced to death on January 29, 2004 while their mercy plea rejected was in February 13, 2013. The apex court had extended the stay on hanging for six months on February 20, 2013.
The court also ruled that a death row convict must be hanged within 14 days after dismissal of his/ her mercy petition. Ruling that death row convicts and their families must be informed after their mercy plea is rejected by the President or the Governor, the apex court said, "Once the mercy plea has been rejected, it should be communicated in writing."
The apex court said schizophrenia, insanity and mental illness can be reasons for commuting death penalty and the convicts should be given adequate medical treatment and legal aid. The order also said that solitary confinement of a death row convict and other prisoners is unconstitutional. (Sources: ibnlive.in.com, 22/01/2014)