New Delhi, March 1: The central government Saturday moved the Supreme Court seeking recall of its verdict holding that inordinate, unexplained and unreasonable delay in deciding a mercy petition by the president was a ground for commuting a death sentence to life imprisonment.
The court had held that in deciding the mercy petition, there could no distinction whether the death row convict was sentenced under normal penal offences or under the provision of anti-terror laws.
The review petition said that the court ought to have taken into account the decision of the Constitution bench upholding separate machinery for the trial of offences under anti-terror laws.
The centre has said the president’s decision to reject mercy petitions could not have been interfered by the court as the same was not subject to judicial review.
It said the court could not have substituted life imprisonment for the death sentence while exercising its power of judicial review over the president’s decision to reject mercy petitions.
The centre in its review petition said that if the court was of the view that the mercy petitions were not properly considered, then the same could have been returned to the president for reconsideration.
The petition to recall the Jan 21 verdict said the president or the governor were not required to spell out any reason for deciding mercy petitions either way.
The centre said the scope of judicial review was extremely limited and ought not to be exercised except on the grounds of malafide, political expediency, extraneous factors, undue haste and non-applicability of mind to the material available before the president.
Contesting the jurisdiction of the three-judge bench to decide the issue, the centre’s plea said the grounds set out in the Jan 21 judgment involved the interpretation of the constitution and the same could have been done by the five-judge bench as spelt out under article 145.
The government said if a mercy petition is pending decision with the president, the court could not have passed the order of remission and all that it could have done was ask the president to decide the mercy petition expeditiously.
“In fact, the court ought not and could not have ordered even in pending mercy petitions that the petition should be allowed or convert the death sentence to life imprisonment,” the review petition said.
Besides delay, the court had also held that insanity, mental illness and schizophrenia could be the grounds for seeking commuting death sentence to life imprisonment.
The apex court by its Jan 21 judgment commuted the death sentence of 15 convicts to life imprisonment on the grounds of delay in deciding their mercy petitions by the president.
In the case of 13 death row convicts, it was on account of years of delay in deciding the mercy petitions and for two convicts, it was mental illness.
This judgment was relied upon for commuting the death sentence of three key conspirators in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case to life imprisonment and was also cited by a 1993 Delhi bomb blast convict seeking commutation of his death sentence.