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Mercy plea delay before SC

New Delhi, Nov. 27: A veteran lawyer has told the Supreme Court that the President cannot reject a mercy plea because of “political expediency” and also called for a clear-cut decision to end the “agonising” uncertainty of death row convicts.

In written submissions before a three-judge bench, senior advocate T.R. Andhyarujina cited the case of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and the prolonged suspense he went through before his execution early this year.

The counsel, appointed amicus curiae (friend of the court), has been asked by a bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh to help the court decide on several important questions following a batch of petitions complaining against presidential delays in deciding mercy pleas.

One issue before the bench is whether the President, acting on the aid and advice of the government, can decide or delay deciding mercy petitions as he deems fit. If the President does make a decision, can it be on extraneous considerations, or whether the decision can be made secretly to pre-empt a possible challenge.

Another question is whether the top court can, under Article 21 (liberty) read with Article 32 (fundamental right), review the President’s decision.

Andhyarujina said the decision on a clemency petition “cannot be a matter of political expediency”. “Regrettably, this was the case of Afzal Guru,” he said in his submission, adding that the Parliament attack convict was hanged in February, more than seven years after the Supreme Court handed him death in August 2005, and over six years after his clemency petition to the President in November 2006. “During this period, he and his family remained in a day-to-day agonising suspense…” the lawyer said. Guru’s petition, Andhyarujina said, became a political issue with the BJP demanding his execution. “In fact, between 2006 and 2008, the then home minister deliberately instructed the government of Delhi to delay responding to the file on Afzal Guru sent to it,” the advocate said.

Andhyarujina also said the court couldn’t dismiss a death row convict’s petition challenging the delay in disposing of his mercy plea merely on the ground that the offence committed was grave and serious.