SC bars states from granting life convicts remission

New Delhi : The Supreme Court Wednesday directed all the state governments to refrain, for now, from exercising their power of remitting the sentence of life convicts and releasing them prematurely.

The interim restrain order will operate till July 22, the next date of hearing.

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Restraining the state governments from releasing the convicts undergoing life imprisonment, the apex court constitution bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice J. Chelameswar, Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman issued notice and asked all the state governments to respond to the seven questions framed by the court April 25.

The court said state government will respond to the seven questions by July 18.

At the outset of the hearing, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told the court the matter before it concerns the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to grant remission of sentences to the convicts in former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and release them without consulting the central government even though the case was investigated and prosecuted by the CBI.

Responding to the question from the bench as to what was the right of the central government in approaching the apex court on the issue, Ranjit Kumar said: “the government represented the victims. Victims normally don’t come to the court. That is why we (government) have a right to approach the court”.

While dwelling on the case, he told the court not only Tamil Nadu government but other state governments too were exercising their power of granting remission and releasing the convicts without consulting the central government.

He said this was the issue to be decided by the court.

Senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi appearing for Tamil Nadu contested the submission by the solicitor general saying this was not the issue under the reference order.

The apex court order came as it took up for hearing a reference by an earlier bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam (since retired), Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice N.V. Ramana on the conflicting positions taken by the central government and the Tamil Nadu government on whether after the commutation of death sentence into life imprisonment by the court, could the convicts in the Rajiv assassination case still be granted remission and consequently released by the state government.

Referring the matter to the constitution bench, the court April 25 had said: “The issue of such a nature has been raised for the first time in this court, which has wide ramification in determining the scope of application of power of remission by the executives — both the central government and the state.”

Referring the matter to the constitution bench, the court April 25 said the constitution bench will also decide: “whether once power of remission under Article 72 (Power of President to grant pardon or remission of sentence) or 161 (Power of governor to grant pardon or remission of sentence) or by this court exercising constitutional power under Article 32 is exercised, is there any scope for further consideration for remission by the executive.”

The court also said the constitution bench will also address which is the appropriate government under the code of criminal procedure — whether it is the state government or the central government or both. “Whether there can be two appropriate governments in a given case under Section 432(7) (appropriate government with power to suspend or remit sentences) of the code?

Besides this, the court framed six more question to be adjudicated by the constitution bench which included whether life imprisonment means imprisonment for rest of the life or whether a convict undergoing life imprisonment has a right to claim remission.

Coupled with this, the court asked the constitution bench to decide whether there can be a special category wherein after death penalty has been commuted to life imprisonment, such a convict is put beyond the applicability of remission of sentence and he will remain behind bars in excess of life term of 14 years.

The apex court by its Feb 18 verdict commuted the death sentence of the three conspirators — V. Sriharan alias Murugan, A.G. Perarivalan alias Arivu and T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan — into life imprisonment on the grounds of inordinate delay of 11 long years in deciding their mercy petitions by the President.

The day after the apex court verdict commuting the death sentence of three conspirators into life imprisonment, the Tamil Nadu government Feb 19, decided to grant remission and release all the seven convicts undergoing jail term.

The other four seeking to be released included Jayakumar, Nalini and Ravichandran.