The Supreme Court on Tuesday laid down 12 guidelines for authorities in dealing with death-row prisoners saying their solitary confinement is "unconstitutional" and rejection of their mercy pleas must be intimated in writing to them and their kin.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam formulated the guidelines after noting that there are "disparities" in the jail manuals on how death row inmates should be treated.
"We have already seen the provisions of various state prison manuals and the actual procedure to be followed in dealing with mercy petitions and execution of convicts. In view of the disparities in implementing the already existing laws, we intend to frame the following guidelines for safeguarding the interest of the death row convicts," it said.
The guidelines laid down the procedure to be followed while placing the mercy plea before the President saying all the required documents and records should be sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in "one stroke" instead of "piece-meal" basis.
It also said that after getting all the details, the MHA should convey its recommendations to the President "within a reasonable and rational time" and send periodical reminders if there is no response from the office of the President.
The apex court noted that while most prison manuals have a provision for informing death row inmates and their family on rejection of their mercy plea by the President, the same is not informed to them in writing and said rejection should be communicated in writing.
The bench also observed that no prison manual has a provision for communicating rejection of mercy plea by the governor and said that since the convict has a right to send a mercy petition to the Governor, "he is entitled to be informed in writing of the decision".
The court also said that death convicts are entitled "to receive a copy of the rejection of the mercy petition by the President and the Governor".
On giving 14 days gap between receipt of communication of rejection of mercy petition and execution date, the court said this period would allow the death convict to "prepare himself mentally for the execution" and "allows the prisoner to have a last and final meeting with his family members".
"Without sufficient notice of the scheduled date of execution, the prisoners' right to avail of judicial remedies will be thwarted and they will be prevented from having a last and final meeting with their families," the bench said.
It noted the provision of final meeting between condemned prisoners and their family is not there in many jail manuals and said "such a procedure is intrinsic to humanity and justice, and should be followed by all prison authorities".
Noting that in some of the cases the death convicts have "lost their mental balance on account of prolonged anxiety and suffering experienced on death row", the court said there should be "regular mental health evaluation of all death row convicts and appropriate medical care should be given to those in need".
It also said "it is necessary that after mercy petition is rejected and the execution warrant is issued, the prison superintendent should satisfy himself on the basis of medical reports by government doctors and psychiatrists that the prisoner is in a fit physical and mental condition to be executed".
Observing that most death row inmates "are extremely poor and do not have copies of their court papers, judgements, etc" and since these documents are essential for preparing their appeal and "accessing post-mercy judicial remedies", the apex court said "it is necessary that copies of relevant documents should be furnished to the prisoner within a week by prison authorities to assist in making mercy petition..." The apex court also made post-mortem of death convicts after their hanging obligatory, as the provision was not there in various prison manuals and in light of the contention that due to dearth of experienced hangman, executions are not being done as per the rules.
"Our Constitution permits the execution of death sentence only through procedure established by law and this procedure must be just, fair and reasonable. In our considered view, making post mortem obligatory will ensure just, fair and reasonable procedure of execution of death sentence," it said.