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Thursday, February 20, 2020

SC junks Centre’s plea, stands by order to grant life to Rajiv Gandhi’s killers

On Feb. 18, court had commuted death sentence of the accused to life imprisonment on ground of delay by Centre in deciding their mercy plea.

Written by Utkarsh Anand | New Delhi | Updated: April 2, 2014 8:36:46 am
SC stayed the release of four convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The bench had held it was “indisputable” that the delay in deciding the mercy plea was “inordinate and unreasonable.” (Express Archive)

Dismissing the Centre’s plea, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to review its verdict commuting the death sentence of three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case to life imprisonment.

Confirming its February verdict, a bench led by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said, “We have carefully gone through the review petition and the connected papers. We find no merit in the review petition and the same is accordingly dismissed.”

The bench, also comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and S K Singh, delivered the verdict in chamber. The government is now left with the only legal option of moving a curative petition against the dismissal.
Significantly, the apex court is yet to deliver its verdict on a related matter wherein the Centre has challenged the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to remit the sentences of all seven convicts in the 1991 assassination case. A status quo has been ordered regarding the release of the convicts.

On February 18, the court had commuted the death sentence of Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan to life imprisonment on the ground of delay by the Centre in deciding their mercy plea.

The bench had held it was “indisputable” that the delay in deciding the mercy plea was “inordinate and unreasonable”, and had not been caused by the convicts. “Accordingly, the unreasonable delay caused qualifies as the supervening circumstance, which warrants for commutation of sentence of death into life imprisonment. Exorbitant delay in disposal of mercy petition renders the process of execution of death sentence arbitrary, whimsical and capricious and, therefore, inexecutable,” it had said.

The court had then left it open for the Tamil Nadu government to grant remission to the convicts under its executive powers. A day later, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa announced that her government had decided to release all the seven convicts in the case.

Subsequently, the Centre filed a comprehensive writ petition challenging the state government’s authority to release the convicts, and also moved a review petition in the specific case. In its review petition, the Centre said the apex court had passed the order “without jurisdiction”.

“It is respectfully submitted that the impugned judgment is patently illegal, suffers from errors apparent on the face of the record, and flies in the face of well-established principles of law laid down by this Hon’ble Court and contained in the Constitution and other statutes,” the petition had stated.

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