The Supreme Court Monday commuted the death sentence of 1993 Delhi terror convict Devender Pal Singh Bhullar to life imprisonment on the grounds of delay in deciding his mercy petition and that he suffered from a mental illness.
The Supreme Court by its Jan 21, 2014, verdict had held that inordinate, unexplained and unreasonable delay in deciding the mercy petition and insanity/mental illness/schizophrenia were the circumstances for commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment.
Referring to its Jan 21 judgment, the apex court bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam, Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice H.L. Dattu and Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya said: "We deem it fit to commute the death sentence imposed on Bhullar into life imprisonment both on the ground of unexplained/inordinate delay of eight years in disposal of mercy petition and on the ground of insanity."
The court also referred to Feb 8 report of the Delhi-based Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) and said, "The report clearly shows that he is suffering from acute mental illness."
Bhuller was examined by a team of expert doctors Feb 5.
Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati earlier said that in view of Jan 21 verdict, the court's earlier judgment of April 12, 2013, by which Bhullar's plea was rejected, no longer holds ground.
"We appreciate the rationale stand taken by learned attorney general and accept the same," the court said.
By its April 12, 2013 judgment, the court while rejecting Bhullar's plea held that the delay in the rejection of a mercy petition of a death row convict by the president was not open to judicial review if the conviction was for a terror crime that involved the loss of a large number of innocent lives.
The court, while upsetting that judgment, on Jan 21, said: "...unexplained delay is one of the grounds for commutation of sentence of death into life imprisonment...The only aspect the courts have to satisfy is that the delay must be unreasonable and unexplained or inordinate at the hands of the executive."
The court also said that besides delay, insanity/mental illness/schizophrenia could also be the grounds for seeking commuting death sentence to life imprisonment.
The apex court March 12, 2014, dismissed the centre's plea for review of its Jan 21 order, saying that there was no merit in the review plea by the Centre.
Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung Jan 6, 2014, in his opinion on the mercy petition of Bhullar said: "...In many ways it would appear as if a child without a mind and in poor health is condemned to death for an incident that he committed when his mind and body were in a completely different state. On principles of human ethics, and natural justice I cannot bring myself to recommend the rejection of the mercy petition of Navneet Kaur."
The court's verdict came on the petition by Bhullar's wife Navneet Kaur who had moved curative petition in September 2013 challenging the rejection of her and Bhullar's review petition April 12, 2013.