Delay in deciding on mercy petitions comes into focus

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:16 pm IST

Published - February 10, 2013 01:11 am IST - NEW DELHI

With the hanging of the Parliament attack case convict, Afzal Guru, a debate has erupted in legal circles whether the government should have waited for the Supreme Court’s verdict on a petition that puts the government in the dock for long delays in deciding mercy petitions.

The government could have at least waited for the apex court’s decision on the petition that seeks remission of the death sentence on the grounds of inordinate delay in deciding his plea, said senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal, who represented Delhi University lecturer S.A.R. Geelani, one of the accused in the case who was later acquitted by the courts.

“The government’s decision to hang Afzal Guru was fuelled by political considerations… his ‘right to live’ has been violated,” Ms. Jaiswal said while debating the issue on a news channel. She also questioned the delay in deciding Afzal Guru’s petition and said hanging was worse than any form of punishment.

‘Centre jumped the gun’

“Why did the government jump the gun, especially when the Supreme Court is still hearing the case? What was the hurry to hang Afzal Guru when he was kept in a ‘death cell’ in the Tihar jail for years?” she said. Significantly, Afzal Guru’s wife Tabasum had filed the mercy petition with the then President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, in October 2006.

On the other hand, senior lawyer Gopal Subramaniam, who was the public prosecutor in the case, defended the hanging and stated that the petition in the Supreme Court was neither related to nor relevant in the Afzal Guru case. “The petition is not about changing the sentence… The Supreme Court is concerned over the lack of constitutional accountability and wants to ensure that a sentence is carried out in a reasonable period. The Supreme Court wants to know why there are undue delays in carrying out the sentence as it affects the credibility of the judicial processes,” he noted.

Asserting that linking Afzal Guru’s hanging with the pending petition was “slight digression’ from the core issue, he said Afzal Guru was given a fair trial and the courts ensured all his legal rights.

“His case was the rarest of rare cases as he was not just a conspirator but played a central role in the conspiracy and waged war against the state,” the former Solicitor General of India noted.

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