Thursday, August 08, 2013

How Magan Lal was Almost Executed This Morning!

Strange are the things that can save a human being's life -- and it is a Times of India news report that saved Magan Lal from being executed this morning (Thursday, 8th August) in Jabalpur Central Jail. It was by sheer chance that anti-death penalty lawyers stumbled upon the ToI news item last evening, which triggered legal proceedings to stay the execution.

The report also indicated that the President had rejected Magan Lal's mercy petition on 22nd July 2013. Magan Lal clearly did not have the opportunity to challenge the rejection of his mercy petition and there is no clarity on whether his family had indeed received information of his execution.

Acting on the news report, PUDR filed a PIL late last evening before the CJI at his residence seeking a stay on the execution. A stay was granted (at about 11pm) until this morning when it will be the first matter to be heard in the CJI's court. It is likely to be argued that Magan Lal's execution be stayed until he has the opportunity to challenge the rejection of his mercy petition. Clearly the CJI was unwilling to hear the matter along with other death penalty matters listed for hearing starting 22nd October 2013, when a constitution bench will attempt to provide judicial clarity on the impact of delay in deciding mercy petitions. Magan Lal's mercy petition was rejected after it was kept pending for 1.5 years.

Magan Lal was sentenced to death by the Sessions Judge, Sehore in February 2011 for murdering all five of his daughters (from his two wives) aged between 1 - 6 years. The High Court of Madhya Pradesh confirmed the sentence in September 2011 and the Supreme Court, through Justices HL Dattu and CK Prasad, dismissed the SLP and denied leave to appeal in January 2012.

Magan Lal's stay came with less than 6 hours remaining for his execution and that should undoubtedly be a relevant issue in future proceedings. The fact that Magan Lal came so close to being executed must necessarily weigh against deciding another date for his execution. It would take a very insensitive Court to ignore Magan Lal's mental agony as a result of this experience and if another date for execution is permitted, the Court will have to necessarily demonstrate why that does not amount to cruelty and torture.

Magan Lal's case is another example of the broken machinery of administering the death penalty in India, where individuals are increasingly executed before being given the opportunity to exhaust all their legal options.

UPDATE (8th August 2013): Magan Lal's petition will now be heard with the 22nd October set of cases and the stay has been extended accordingly.

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