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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  • This case appears to be a very peculiar case, for more than one reason.

    Anup has pointed out how the Supreme Court did not hear the SLP in a substantial manner. The SLP order reveals that it was dismissed in limine .

    There are pronouncements of the Supreme Court in this regard, which clearly show that such an approach is not correct, and any petition involving Death Sentence is to be heard in a manner that the Supreme Court arises at an independent finding of guilt of the convict, “unbound by the findings of the trial court and the High Court."

    Mohammed Ajmal Mohammad Amir Kasab v. State of Maharashtra, (2012) 9 SCC 234

    "5. From the Judgment of the High Court two appeals have come to this Court: one is a jail appeal by Kasab and the other is by the State of Maharashtra. The State's appeal seeks to challenge the acquittal of the other two accused by the trial court and affirmed by the High Court. The other two accused are impleaded in the State's appeal as Respondents No. 1 and 2. Kasab was unrepresented in the appeal preferred by him from jail and this Court, therefore, appointed Mr. Raju Ramachandran, senior advocate, assisted by Mr. Gaurav Agrawal, to represent him. He was thus able to get legal assistance of a standard and quality that is not available to a majority of Indian nationals approaching this Court against their conviction and sentence.

    6. We may also state here that since it is a case of death sentence, we intend to examine the materials on record first hand, in accordance with the time-honoured practice of this Court, and come to our own conclusions on all issues of facts and law, unbound by the findings of the trial court and the High Court."


  • Contd….
    Triveniben v. State of Gujarat, (1989) 1 SCC 678

    13. The main theme of the arguments on the basis of delay has been the inhuman suffering which a condemned prisoner suffers waiting to be executed and the mental torture it amounts to and it is in this background also that the parties argued at length about the starting point which should be considered for computing delay in execution of the sentence. On the one hand according to the petitioners the mental torture commences when the trial court i.e. the Sessions Court pronounces the judgment and awards capital punishment. However, learned Counsel also conceded that even the condemned prisoner knows that the judgment pronounced by the Sessions Court in the case of capital punishment is not final unless confirmed by the High Court. Mainly therefore it was contended that the real mental torture commences after the death sentence is confirmed by the High Court and therefore to consider the question of delay the time should be computed from the date of the High Court judgment On the other hand learned Attorney General contended that even if the judgment of confirmation by the High Court is passed in which capital punishment is awarded, invariably comes to this Court and this Court ordinarily grants leave and appeals are heard at length and it was therefore contended the delay in execution of the sentence really could be considered after the pronouncement of the final verdict by this Court and it is only after the final verdict is pronounced that it could be said that the judicial process has concluded. It is no doubt true that sometimes in these procedures some time is taken and sometimes even long time is spent. May be for unavoidable circumstances and sometimes even at the instance of the accused but it was contended and rightly so that all this delay upto the final judicial process is taken care of while the judgment is finally, pronounced and it could not be doubted that in number of cases considering the time that has elapsed from the date of the offence till the final decision has weighed with the courts and lesser sentence awarded only on this account.

    Then, a search in the cause-title by his name does not reveal any review/curative petition.

    Also, like some of the previous cases, the dismissal of his mercy petition by the President was not given any publicity. For someone who has killed 5 of his own children, it is difficult to see if an intimation to his family about rejection of his mercy petition, would have evoked any response from his family members.

    Thus, crucial rights, as recognised in a series of Supreme Court judgments, ex-post-rejection of mercy petition, were not availed by /on behalf of Maganlal.