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’Undue delay’ in hanging creates legal confusion

Rakesh Bhatnagar

Sunday 27 June 2004, by BHATNAGAR*Rakesh

NEW DELHI: Kolkata’s condemned prisoner Dhananjoy Chatterjee’s plea for mercy offers an opportunity to President A P J Abdul Kalam to seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on what should be construed as "undue delay" in the execution of the death sentence that entitles remission to life term for him.

Though the apex court on Friday "closed" the matter as the President is seized of the mercy plea submitted by Dhananjoy’s aged parents, their plaint undoubtedly raises a crucial issue regarding the period of "undue delay" on which the SC itself has been uncertain.

In 1983, the Supreme Court had said that two years’ delay in execution of the sentence was a good enough period to grant remission to a condemned man.

But in Vivian Rodrick’s case in 1971, it had found six years’ delay in hanging a condemned man the right period to commute his sentence.

Still in 1981, the court felt that seven years’ delay should be reasonable time to remove the fear of death from the man who had committed the rarest of rare crime.

But all these judgements lost their meaning in 1989 when a five-judge Bench headed by Justice G L Oza said no time could be fixed for the period of "undue delay."

It also said that besides "undue delay", who was responsible for such a delay was also of paramount importance in commuting the extreme penalty into life term.

"It is a misconception that life term means 14 years’ imprisonment, it is incarceration for life," Dhananjoy’s counsel Colin Gonsalves says.

Coming to Dhananjoy’s case, he was sentenced to death by the Alipore court in 1991. After the Calcutta HC upheld the sentence, the SC cleared all the hurdles for his execution 10 years ago in 1994.

See online : The Times of India

P.S.

in The Times of India, Sunday, June 27, 2004.

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