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Rajiv assassination: States cannot release life convicts, says SC

The long stay order has led to Karnataka, Bihar and West Bengal joining hands with Tamil Nadu, questioning the Centre’s position in the Supreme Court that they can release life convicts.

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to lift its order staying State governments from releasing life convicts, including former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, on remission of sentences.

The five-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu refused to lift its stay order passed in July last year, while observing that for the time being “we will not tinker with any of our earlier orders.”

During a brief first-day hearing, before the court adjourned to July 21, counsel for the States pressed the Bench to return to the States the power of remission to at least release convicts who have completed over 20 years of their sentence.

“No. Not at this stage. We are going to hear the matter in detail. At the end, after we decide, you will either come out or stay in jail,” the CJI said.

The long stay order has led to other States such as Karnataka, Bihar and West Bengal joining hands with Tamil Nadu questioning the Union government’s position in the Supreme Court that they can release life convicts or death row convicts whose sentences were commuted to life only after permission from the Centre, especially in cases investigated by a Central agency.

So, the question before the Bench would be “whether in the CBI cases, States have any role on the question of remission to life convicts.”

The other judges are Justices F.M.I. Kalifulla, Pinaki Chandra Ghose, Abhay Manohar Sapre and U.U. Lalit.

The issue reached the apex court after T.N. decided to remit the sentences of all seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, after the SC commuted their death sentence.

Bench will also have to decide on convict’s right to claim remission

The five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu will also have to decide whether life imprisonment, after commutation, means rest of life or a whether the convict has a right to claim remission after completing 14 years of the prison sentence.

The Bench would have to decide whether a court should hear the family of the victim of a crime before commuting the death penalty. Again, whether the family’s wishes should be considered before the State government remits the sentences of a death penalty prisoner.

The Supreme Court had on July 9, 2014, restrained all States from exercising power of remission for releasing convicts serving life sentences.

The issue of remission was referred to the Constitution Bench after the Centre had challenged the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to remit the sentences of all seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

The court had on February 20, 2014, stayed the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release three convicts — Murugan, Santhan and Arivu — whose death sentences were commuted to life term by it on February 18.

It had later also stayed release of four other convicts, Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, in the case, saying there were procedural lapses on the part of the State government.

The Jayalalithaa government had decided to set free all the seven convicts who have been in jail for 23 years for their role in the 1991 Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 6:43:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/rajiv-assassination-states-cannot-release-life-convicts-says-sc/article7424868.ece

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