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Explained: Can death sentence be postponed on medical grounds?

December 16 gangrape and murder case convict Vinay Sharma has moved the Delhi court seeking medical treatment claiming he is mentally ill – and that he is unable to recognize his mother.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 21, 2020 9:16:48 am
Vinay Sharma and the other three convicts are scheduled to be hanged on March 3 at 6 am.

In a fresh twist to the December 16 gangrape and murder case, convict Vinay Sharma has moved the Delhi court seeking medical treatment claiming he is mentally ill – and that he is unable to recognize his mother. Vinay’s lawyer also alleged that he is injured after he reportedly banged his head against the wall.

Vinay’s lawyer, AP Singh told the court that when he visited Sharma in the prison on the request of his family members, he found that the convict had sustained grievous head injury, fracture in his right arm with plaster and was suffering from “insanity”, “mental illness” and “schizophrenia”. He also told the court that Vinay has failed to now recognize his own mother and has fractured his arm.

The four convicts — Pawan Gupta (25), Mukesh Singh (32), Vinay Sharma (26) and Akshay Kumar Singh (31) — are scheduled to be hanged on March 3 at 6 am.

Also read | Supreme Court rejects Dec 16 convict’s plea challenging clemency rejection

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This raises the question if the death row convicts can postpone their sentence on medical grounds. The answer is – yes.

What do Delhi prision rules say on postponement of death sentence?

The Delhi prison rules, 2018 – have two provisions related to the postponement of the death sentence on medical grounds.

First, the rules states that the execution of a convict shall not be carried out on the date fixed if he is “physically unfit to receive the punishment”; but in determining the degree of physical disability sufficient to justify postponement of the execution – “the illness shall be both serious and acute (not chronic) before postponement is considered”. In this case, rules state, that the Superintendent shall at once submit to the Inspector General a detailed report of such case together with the medical opinion regarding the degree of physical disability of the prisoner and the probable date, if any, on which the prisoner is likely to become physically fit for execution.

Second, there can be postponement on the grounds of Insanity.

“If any prisoner awaiting sentence of death shows signs of mental illness which, in the opinion of the Medical Officer, are not feigned, or which require observation to determine whether they are feigned or not, the circumstance shall at once to be reported to Government, through the Inspector General of Prisons under intimation to the Deputy Inspector General (Range) for orders,” the rules state.

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The rules further state that the government in such cases orders the appointment of a Special Medical Board, for the purpose of examining the mental condition of a prisoner sentenced to death. “..he shall be kept under observation in the prison by the psychiatrist in charge of the Prison Hospital or nearest psychiatric or similar institution or the Civil Surgeon for a period of ten days or longer if considered necessary prior to an examination by the Medical Board,” the rules state.

The rules also state that Superintendent and the Medical Officer shall give all facilities to the psychiatrist or the Civil Surgeon for a physical examination of the prisoner sentenced to death including serological tests and for observation of the prisoner sentenced to death “without his knowledge”.

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Importantly, the rules emphasize that the “factual material” concerning the mental condition of the prisoner sentenced to death shall be obtained either from records or “from eye-witness” including the officer who arrested him. “For the purpose of an estimation of the prisoner sentenced to death’s state of mind just prior to, at the time of and soon after the commission of the offence, reports shall be obtained from eyewitnesses including relatives of the prisoner sentenced to death,” the rules state.

In the final stage, Medical Specialist or Civil Surgeon places all the records before the Medical Board; and the President of the Board forwards the proceedings of the Medical Board together with their own opinion to the Secretary, Home Department.

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