Mercy Petition Boon or Bane?
For Prelims: Pardoning power of President and Governor.
For Mains: Structure, Organization and Functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary—Ministries and Departments of the Government; Pressure Groups and Formal/Informal Associations and their Role in the Polity.
Context of News:
- The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the death sentence of the four men found guilty of the gangrape in Nirbhaya case is once again in the news for the delay in execution of these four peoples.
- Mercy Petition lies in saving an innocent person from being punished due to miscarriage of justice or in cases of doubtful conviction.
- The hope of being pardoned itself serves as an incentive for the convict to behave himself in the prison institution and thus, helps considerably in solving the issue of prison discipline also. The concept of Mercy Petition is followed in many nations like USA, UK, and Canada etc. including India.
Constitutional Mechanism of Mercy Petition:
- In India, the power to grant pardon is entrusted to the President and the Governors of various states under Article 72 and Article 161 of the Constitution. It adds a human touch to the country’s judicial process by conferring powers to grant pardon or show Mercy to criminals sentenced to death.
- President and Governors can review the applications without having to view it from a legal angle like that of legal experts who base their opinions solely on the basis of available evidence and the testimony of witnesses.
Grounds of Appeal:
- In his/her mercy petition, the person concerned is required to state the grounds upon which he/she requests for the grant of pardon.
- These grounds may not have any value in the eyes of law for exonerating the accused person from the offence, but they may play an important role in the release of the person by the President.
- The grounds, such as the convicted person is the only bread earner of the family or the physical fitness of the convict, his age or even the law was quite harsh or the court by chance committed any mistake or error inadvertently, may be taken into consideration at the time of disposal of the mercy petition.
- Supreme Court in Kehar Singh v Union of India, 1988 case reiterated its stand and held that the grant of pardon by the President is an act of grace and, therefore, cannot be claimed as a matter of right.
Need of Mercy Petition:
- Scope of relooking:
- Mercy petition has been one of the most debated and stressed topics in the arena of law and justice as they seek to offer a death row convict one last chance to seek reprieve after being found guilty of a rarest of rare crime by the top court of the land. A mercy plea is meant to give an additional safeguard against miscarriages of justice.
- The provision for mercy allows for rectifying miscarriage of justice or doubtful conviction or errors of the legal system as a result of which the law can become a killing machine. It allows for rectifying errors in the face of a lawyers’ boycott and poor legal representation. It also allows for recognition of remorse and reformation, acknowledges the sanctity of life and recognizes that when the law kills, it sacrifices its own humanity.
- Pardoning power of executive is very significant as it corrects the errors of judiciary. It eliminates the effect of conviction without addressing the defendant’s guilt or innocence. Mercy Petition’s timely disposal may prove to be a boon and in the interest of society and the convict considering the period of imprisonment undergone, seriousness of the offence, age of the prisoner, the health of the prisoner, good prison record, remorse and atonement, deference to public opinion etc. Else, it is a bane.
- Even heinous crime of Rape convicts under the POCSO Act should have the right to file mercy petition. The right to file a mercy petition is a constitutional right of a death row convict. While child sexual abuse deserves condemnation and strict liability laws should be implemented, the suspension of mercy in such cases cannot be justified on the grounds that such abuse is exceptional violence.
- Death penalty is justified by evoking sexual violence. And, sexual violence is framed as an exception. But with the rise of death penalty, states like Uttar Pradesh have seen the worst ways of killing rape victims. Death penalty does not deter rape.