Presidential Pardons | Daily News

Presidential Pardons

The Interim Order issued by the Supreme Court on Wednesday suspended the Presidential Pardon granted to Duminda Silva. Silva together with five others were sentenced to death on September 8, 2016 by the Colombo High Court for the murder of former MP Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra during the Local Government Election campaign on October 08, 2011. The Supreme Court in a unanimous decision dismissed the Appeal and affirmed the High Court verdict on October 11, 2018.

The Presidential Pardon granted to the convict was challenged in the Supreme Court by the daughter of the deceased, ex-MP Hirunika Premachanda. The Order will be effective until the final hearing of the case. Subsequently, the SC ordered the CID to place Duminda Silva in custody.

The granting of Presidential Pardons on this occasion and even prior to that for those convicted of murder had always caused a huge furore, for good reason. The Bar Association and the legal fraternity had vehemently opposed the move every time. By one stroke of the pen as it were, all the hard work of the Attorney General’s Department whose personnel may have argued the cases for months and even years and that of the learned Supreme Court Judges who painstakingly poured over the material were brought to naught by a layman, who, for all intents and purposes may not be aware of the damage he/she may be doing to the whole justice system.

There was one common thread that ran through all such Presidential Pardons. All those convicted were either politicians, politically linked or those who wielded political influence. The rot set in with the granting of a Presidential Pardon by the first incumbent in that office to notorious criminal Gonawala Sunil who allegedly had close political links to the ruling party. Then came the Presidential Pardon granted to the spouse of a Minister serving a life sentence for the murder of the mistress of her husband. Perhaps the most outrageous Presidential Pardon was granted to the convict in the Royal Park murder allegedly at the behest of a monk. Even the mild-mannered D. B. Wijetunga was not above granting Presidential Pardons. He issued such a pardon that saw the release of another murder convict against his better judgement, based on a request from a Government politician which then Justice Minister Harold Herath, who had to do the honours, later regretted in Parliament.

This practice of Presidential Pardons has to be scrapped and hopefully those entrusted with drafting the new Constitution would ensure this. Politically linked Presidential pardons could also in no way be justified considering that there are 9,000 prisoners on death row, rotting away behind bars. What their feelings would have been are not difficult to guess on being made aware of the spate of “singled out” Presidential Pardons granted to individuals convicted of the same crime.

It also is an indication of how flawed the whole system is. No wonder there is a widespread rebellion against the rulers with youth agitating for a complete system change. The Cost of Living and the shortages alone are not the causes stoking public anger. Widespread discrimination, selective treatment and the privileged lifestyles of the ruling elite are also reasons for public disaffection compelling the youth population to flee the country in their droves. Quirks of justice such as the granting of Presidential Pardons to murder convicts could well have been the last straw.

The granting of pardons to prisoners should be left entirely in the hands of a panel of judicial officers and perhaps with participation of the Bar Association. Only those thoroughly deserving and where a miscarriage of justice is perceived should be set free.

The leader who granted this pardon obviously had overlooked this reality. The release of prisoners on special occasions too should be done after a careful assessment. A former Prisons Reforms Minister had plans to release prisoners in a phased-out manner as an answer to prison congestion. Mercifully, he was relieved of his duties before he had time to put his plan into action. Had this taken place, there would have been a grave threat to law and order with persons with a criminal bent swarming the country. No prisoner should be set free unless he or she is properly rehabilitated and the safety factor taken into account. Only those who are behind bars due to the inability to pay fines or for minor offences should be considered for release. Certainly not murder convicts. And not at all on Presidential Pardons.


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