Can Supreme Court bar a convict from seeking mercy?

April 16th, 2008 - 9:54 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi, April 16 (IANS) The Supreme Court Wednesday decided to examine whether it has legal powers to restrict a lifer, serving jail term for more than 14 years, from seeking mercy from the government for shortening his term. Taking up the question, a bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice R.V. Raveendran issued a notice to Solicitor General Goolam E. Vahanvati, seeking his view on the issue.

The bench took up the question on a petition by Mumbai gangster Subhash Thakur, who questioned the apex court’s 2001 ruling that commuted his death penalty to jail term for “the rest of life” but restricted him from seeking further shortening the jail term.

A former sharpshooter of fugitive underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and alleged henchman of the late Congress leader Kalpnath Rai, Thakur was awarded death sentence by an anti-terror court of Mumbai for killing two policemen and a prisoner in a midnight shootout at J.J. Hospital in the metropolis in September 1992.

Thakur and his accomplices opened indiscriminate firing in the 1,500-bed government hospital to kill rival gangster Shailesh Haldankar, who was undergoing treatment in the hospital under police custody.

Head constable C.G. Javsen, constable K.B. Bhanawat and Haldankar were killed in the shootout, and six others, including two policemen, were grievously injured.

After the shootout, Thakur fled to Delhi, where he using his alleged links with Congress leader Kalpnath Rai stayed in the guesthouse of public sector enterprise National Thermal Power Corporation for some time to evade his arrest.

Rai was convicted by a Delhi anti-terror court for sheltering Thakur, but was eventually acquitted by the apex court.

Thakur was later arrested by Delhi Police in July 1993 and is in the jail since.

He was awarded death sentence by the Mumbai anti-terror court in August 2000, and late that year moved the apex court against the trial court judgement.

In September 2001, the apex court commuted his death penalty to a jail term for “the rest of life”. Considering the gravity of his crime, the apex court also barred him from seeking mercy from the government for shortening his jail term.

It’s against this ruling that Thakur has come to the apex court again after serving nearly 15 years in jail.

In his petition, Thakur has contended that Section 433-A of the Criminal Procedure Code, and various provisions of the Prisoners Act and Jail Manual empower the government to shorten the jail term of a lifer after 14 years of imprisonment by granting remission of the sentence.

Arguing for Thakur, senior counsel Harish Salve questioned the apex court’s 2001 ruling and said the judiciary cannot divest the executive of its right to grant remission of sentence or commute the sentence of a convict.

The bench agreed to hear the limited question of law, saying that it will not review its seven-year-old ruling, which has already “attained finality”.

It would brook no plea on behalf of Thakur to allow him to approach the government for remission of his sentence while examining the legal question, the court said.

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