SC extends stay on release of Rajiv case convicts

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The Supreme Court refers the matter to a Constitution Bench

In a major setback to the Tamil Nadu government the Supreme Court on Friday extended the stay of an order passed on February 19 directing the release of seven life convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

On February 20, the court had directed the Tamil Nadu government to maintain status quo in its decision to release the three convicts Sriharan alies Murugan, T.Suthendraraja alia Santhan and A.G. Perarivalan allias Arivu, whose death sentence was commuted to life term on February 18 as well as in the release of four other convicts Nalini, Robert Pious, Jayakumar and Ravichandran. On Friday the court said the interim order of staying the release would continue till the final decision was rendered by the five-judge constitution Bench.

A bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana, while extending the stay, referred to a Constitution Bench the issues raised by the Centre on the powers of the State government to release the convicts after the same had been rejected by the President or the Governor in exercise of their clemency powers. The Bench gave this verdict on the writ petition filed by the Centre challenging the Tamil nadu government’s decision to release the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

The Bench framed seven questions to be considered by the Constitution Bench, including whether the State could exercise its remission powers to release a life convict after the same had been exercised by the President or the Governor or by the apex court by commuting the death sentence into life term.; what was the meaning of `consultation’ contemplated in Section 432 Cr.P.C. and whether it would mean concurrence with the Central government; whether imprisonment for life would mean imprisonment for the rest of life without remission; whether the court could evolve a special category of sentence in certain cases and substitute death sentence into life sentence for rest of life and make such an order beyond the power of remission and which was the appropriate government, either the State or the Centre or there could be two parallel government which could exercise the power of remission.

Considering the importance of the questions raised in the present matter which would have wide ramifications and bearing on the criminal justice system across the country, the Bench requested the Constitution Bench to be constituted within three months to give an authoritative pronouncement on various issues.

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