LAHORE, Dec 19: The Supreme Court has observed that there is no law in the country which declares that life imprisonment means 25 years in prison.
This observation is part of a question which the apex court has posed during the hearing of a number of appeals which raise an important law point of restoring the death penalty of the convicts whose capital punishment have been commuted into life imprisonment and who have since been released on the basis of remission in their imprisonment periods.
A five-member bench of the Supreme Court will again take up as many as 62 such appeals on Jan 3. Comprising Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza, Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday, Justice Faqir Muhammad Khokhar, Justice M Javed Buttar and Justice Syed Tasaddaq Husain Jilani, the bench has invited legal opinion of the attorney-general and advocates-general of all the four provinces in assisting the court in reaching a conclusion with the help of the counsel for petitioners who are at present advancing their arguments.
According to the Supreme Court, the provisions of section 57 of the Pakistan Penal Code which reckon 25-year imprisonment as transportation for life, only stipulate the calculation of the punishment term which is necessary because certain offences are a fraction of the term of imprisonment prescribed for other offences.
Another question posed by the apex court relates to remission which the government gives to convicts from time to time and which leaves a great impact on the period of sentence in the prison.
The question has been asked in view of the remissions making a major impact on the term of sentence. There are a number of instances before the courts that convicts for life are released within seven to eight years.
The legal question becomes all the more complicated when a court comes across an appeal for restoring capital punishment of a convict, whose death penalty has been commuted into life imprisonment and is released from the jail because of remissions.
This exactly is the situation the Supreme Court is confronted with after receiving 62 appeals of the similar nature. The legal question primarily rose in 2002 when the Lahore High Court commuted the death penalty of Muhammad Tahir on the ground that the motive of the murder was shrouded in mystery.
Tahir was sentenced to death by an additional sessions judge of Shujabad on the offence of 'qatal-i-amad'. He was subsequently released after having availed several periods of remission announced by the government from time to time.
Later, the complainant against Tahir moved the Supreme Court through a petition praying for restoring his death penalty. Through a judgment on May 16, 2003, Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday, who is also on the larger SC bench now seized of the legal question, said it was not clear if the LHC decision to commute the death penalty into life imprisonment was sustainable on the ground that the offence was shrouded in mystery.
The court also put the question if the absence of motive was not liable to uphold death penalty as cited in 1971 SCMR 368, 1999 SCMR 1469, 2000 SCMR 1758 and 2002 SCMR 1431.
Another situation the Supreme Court addressed pertains to the application of remission. The judgment noticed that convicts directed to undergo sentence of life imprisonment are being released from custody after seven to eight years after "so-called" completion of their term.
This situation has been created because of remissions from time to time. The SC observed it could never have been the intention of the law-makers who envisaged and prescribed punishment for life.
It may be mentioned here that article 54 of the constitution empowers the president to grant such remissions from time to time, particularly on national occasions. The law provides that the remission is applicable to convicts and not to under-trial prisoners.
The jail manual also provides for at least a 14-year substantive period for those sentenced to life imprisonment. Section 57 of the Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that life imprisonment will be 25 years.
Similar are the provisions of the Enforcement of Had Ordinance, 1979, which also seek that the will of the heirs of the deceased shall be required in the commutation of death penalty and also in case of application for remission on life imprisonment.
However, the problem understandably lies with the jail administration which has been giving benefit of remission even to under-trial prisoners. This exercise of power has invariably resulted in the release of life imprisonment convict earlier than 14 years.