Power of Prez to pardon convicts cannot be interfered with: HC

Chennai : Dismissing a PIL, Madras High Court yesterday said the power of the President of India to pardon convicts or commute death penalty cannot be interfered with “as it is neither unfettered nor without constitutional checks and balances.”

In its judgement, the First Bench, comprising Chief Justice R K Agrawal and Justice M Sathyanarayanan, said “To pardon convicts or commute death penalty into life imprisonment is the power of the President which cannot be interfered with as it is neither unfettered nor without constitutional checks and balances.”

The Bench referred to a judgement of Supreme Court in the Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar case, wherein it had been observed that “Power of the President under Article 72 and Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution is manifestation of prerogative of the State.”

“It is neither a matter of grace nor a matter of privilege but it is an important constitutional responsibility to be discharged by the highest Executive keeping in view the considerations of larger public interest and welfare of the people,” it said.

“The President, while exercising power under Article 72, is required to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers…,” the bench said.

The petitioner argued that once a person is convicted after a full-fledged trial, it cannot be interfered with by the President which will frustrate the penal System.

He further argued that since no time limit has been prescribed and no criteria laid down as to how the power is to be exercised, it may lead to arbitrariness and unreasonableness on the part of the Executive.

P Wilson, Additional Solicitor-General, however, said the powers are not untrammelled. “Only the sentence, and not the conviction recorded by the trial court, is set aside or commuted by the President or Governor,” he said. “The stigma of sentence continues to remain with the individual concerned,” he said.

The bench, concurring with his submissions, said the power under Article 72 of the Constitution is not unanalysed, and that it is subject to checks and balances. “It is also subject to judicial review on limited grounds such as arbitrariness, non-application of mind and irrelevant considerations,” it said, dismissing the PIL filed by one S A Mijayan.