The court was hearing the plea of three men who had been imprisoned for a period of 24 years.

President can order life imprisonment while granting clemency to convicts Madras HC
news Court Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 09:42

In a ruling that has serious ramifications for the criminal justice system as well as the powers of the President of India, the Madras High Court held on Wednesday that it is well within the right of the Head of State to impose conditions while granting clemency. Notably, the President may order the lifelong incarceration of convicts pardoned from facing a death sentence.

According to a report in the Deccan Chronicle, Justice N Anand Venkatesh dismissed the petitions of three convicts— V Radhakrishna, C Selvam and Sheik Meeran—  who had been sentenced to death in 1998 by the principal sessions judge in Tirunelveli. The men had been convicted in the murder of a gang leader in Nagercoil in December 1994 in the premises of a court hall. 

Their Special Leave Petitions and appeals of their sentencing had been junked by both the Madras High Court as well as the Supreme Court. In 2012, then President Pratibha Patil commuted their death sentence and ordered life imprisonment instead. The clemency order essentially ruled out the possibility of the state government granting the prisoners remission (a reduction in sentence) under any circumstances, waived in return for reasons like good conduct.

Holding that the President was well within constitutional boundaries to do so, the Madras High Court reportedly said, “It has to be taken either as a whole or it must be dropped as a whole. The convicts cannot be permitted to take the beneficial portion of the pardon in their favour and at a later point of time, turn around and question the condition that comes with the pardon.”

According to a report in The Hindu, M Radhakrishnan, the counsel for the petitioners, argued that the 'fundamental principle of criminal law' was to bring about reform and rehabilitation of the guilty. Thus it would be of little meaning if the convicts were not released even after they had been reformed and rehabilitated. He had argued that the clemency conditions imposed by then President Patil was 'arbitrary, unfair, unreasonable' and were in contravention to the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Indian constitution.

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