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In this judgment, Hon’ble Apex Court has held that, delay in executing a death sentence is violation of Article 21 of Constitution of India.
A prisoner condemned to death over eight years ago claims that it is not lawful to hang him now. Let us put the worst against him first. He was the principal accused in the case and, so to say, the archvillian of a villainous piece. He was the brain behind a cruel conspiracy to impersonate Customs officers’ pretend to question unsuspecting visitors to the city of Madras, abduct them on the pretext of interrogating them, administer sleeping pills to the unsuspecting victims steal their cash and jewels and finally murder them. The plan was ingeniously fiendish and the appellant was the architect. There is no question that the learned Sessions Judge very rightly sentenced him to death But that was in January 1975. Since then he has been kept in solitary confinement, quite contrary to our ruling in Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration(1). Before that he was a ’prisoner under remand’ for two years. So, the prisoner claims that to take away his life after keeping him in jail for ten years, eight of which in illegal solitary confinement, is a gross violation o the Fundamental Right guaranteed by Art. 21 af the Constitution.
Hon’ble Court rules:
So, what do we have now? Arts. 14, 19 and 21 are not mutually exclusive. They sustain, strengthen and nourish each other. They are available to prisoners as well as free men. Prison walls do not keep out Fundamental Rights. A person under sentence of death may also claim Fundamental Rights. The fiat of Art. 21, as explained, is that any procedure which deprives a person of his life or liberty must be just, fair and reasonable. Just, fair and reasonable procedure implies a right to free legal services where he cannot avail them. It implies a right to a speedy trial. It implies humane conditions of detection, preventive or punitive. ’Procedure established by law’ does not end with the pronouncement of sentence; it includes tho carrying out of sentence. That is as far as we have gone so far. It seems to us but a short step, but a step in the right direction, to hold that prolonged detention to await the execution of a sentence of death is an unjust, unfair and unreasonable procedure and the only way to undo the wrong is to quash the sentence of death.
What may be considered prolonged delay so as to attract the constitutional protection of Art. 21 against the execution of a sentence of death is a ticklish question. In Ediga Annamma’s case, two years was considered sufficient to justify interference with the sentence of death. In Bhagwan Baux’s case, two and a half years and in Sadhu Singh’s case, three and a half years were taken as sufficient to justify altering the sentence of death into one of imprisonment for life. The Code of Criminal Procedure provides that a sentence of death imposed by a court of Session must be confirmed by the High Court. The practice, to our knowledge, has always been to give top priority to the hearing of such cases by the High Courts. So, also in this Court. There are provisions in the Constitution (Arts. 72 and 161) which invest the President and the Governor with power to suspend, remit or commute a sentence of death. Making all reasonable allowance for the time necessary for appeal and considered of reprieve, we think that delay exceeding two years in the execution of a sentence of death should be considered sufficient to entitle the person under sentence of death to invoke Art. 21 and demand the quashing of the sentence of death. We therefore accept the special leave petition, allow the appeal as also the Writ Petition and quash the sentence of death. In the place of the sentence of death, we substitute the sentence of imprisonment for life.T.V. Vatheeswaran Vs State Of Tamil Nadu on 16 February, 1983
Citation: AIR 1983 SC 361, 1983 AIR 361, 1983 SCR (2) 348, 1983 SCC (2) 68, 1983 SCALE (1)115
Indiankanoon link: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1536503/