New Delhi | States cannot exercise statutory power to remit sentences of convicts, tried under central laws and probed by central agencies like CBI without consulting the Union government, the Supreme Court held today.
Settling the constitutional issues that had arisen out of the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to set free the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the apex court said that though the states have power to grant remission, they cannot exercise it suo motu. A five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu, who is demitting office today, also said that the Centre will have primacy in granting remission to convicts in cases registered under central law and probed by central agencies like CBI.
The bench, which was unanimous in answering all the issues raised in the reference of a smaller bench, however, differed by 3:2 on the question as to whether courts can quantify the jail term in offences which prescribe life term as sentence. The majority said that courts have the power to do so.
The bench, also comprising justices F M I Kalifulla, Pinaki Chandra Ghosh, Abhay Manohar Sapre and U U Lalit, referred to a three-judge bench the factual and legal aspects of grant of remission to convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
The apex court had earlier said that it would be dealing with different issues framed by the smaller bench on the scope of executives’ power of remission. The apex court had on February 20, last year stayed the state government’s decision to release three convicts, Murugan, Santhan and Arivu, whose death sentence had been commuted to life term by it.
It had later also stayed the release of four other convicts Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran, saying there were procedural lapses on part of the state government. Santhan, Murugan and Arivu are currently lodged in Central Prison, Vellore. The other four are also undergoing life sentence for their role in Gandhi’s assassination on May 21, 1991 in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu.
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