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Assessing clemency laws

Assessing clemency laws

There is no evidence to support that rigorous jail sentences reduce the number of hardcore criminals or violent acts perpetrated in a society. Correspondingly, there is no research which suggests that the convicts given a premature release through pardon have reformed themselves and rehabilitated in society.

When you read news stories that reveal that pardoned persons got arrested in connection with a crime, then you start believing that convicts cannot change. If convicts cannot change, then we are fooling ourselves by setting them free to walk under open sky.  

Recently, Lok Bahadur BK, one of the 670 convicts, who walked free on the basis of a presidential pardon granted on the Constitution Day (Sept 19) on the government’s recommendations for “exhibiting good conduct”, was again arrested for allegedly murdering Bhawana BK of Rukum district. Murder convict Yograj Dhakal Regal, doing a 20-year term, also got freed for a brief period, only to be arrested after a Supreme Court order.  

Pardoning hardcore criminals is nothing new in Nepal. Former lawmaker and Maoist leader Balkrishna Dhungel, awarded life term in 2004 for masterminding the murder of Ujjan Kumar Shrestha of Okhaldhunga during the Maoist insurgency in 1998 along with the confiscation of his property, had received a pardon in 2018 along with around 800 convicts. But the Supreme Court had issued an order against the government vis-a-vis the pardon granted to Dhungel.

Legal recognition

Article 276 of the Constitution of Nepal 2015 provides that the President of Nepal “may grant pardons to persons convicted, and suspend, commute, or reduce any sentence imposed by any court, judicial or quasi-judicial bodies or administrative officer or authority.” But this provision is not absolute in nature, as the prevailing criminal law of the land has put certain restrictions on the exercise of this power. 

Section 159(4) of the National Criminal Procedure Code, 2017 prohibits pardoning of people convicted of corruption charges; rape; genocide; human trafficking; money laundering; abduction or enforced-disappearance; (possession of) explosives; murder in a cruel and inhumane way; and narcotic drugs trafficking or transaction punishable by a sentence of imprisonment for a term exceeding three years.

The pardoning could help the convict walk free before the completion of the sentence so inflicted, but it does not necessarily mean they are innocent. In other words, pardoning could ensure a premature release but cannot eliminate the stigma or guilt.

Global precedent

The constitutional power to pardon is not a unique concept in Nepal. It was derived from the Royal Prerogative of Mercy. This power is delegated to the Lord Chancellor in England whereas in the United States (US), it’s secured under the constitutional scheme.

Article II, Section 2 of the US Constitution envisages that the President “shall have the Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

The Constitution of India also recognizes presidential power of pardoning under Article 72, which confers on the head of the state the power to grant pardons, reprieve, respite, and commute or reduce the sentence of any person convicted of any offense.

Unlike in the US, the president of India or Nepal does not act in person but on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.

Is it an absolute power?  

The Supreme Court of Nepal on November 2 in the case of Bharati Sherpa v the Office of the President, Kathmandu and Others observed that the remission, respite, reprieve, remission or commutation of the sentence should be based on public interest, prevailing laws and the rulings of the Supreme Court.

The presidential clemency for the sake of political adjustment or political bargaining shall amount to violation of the constitution and established legal norms, the Supreme Court of Nepal held in the case of Resham Lal Chaudhary and Others v Government of Nepal (2023). 

The author holds a degree in Constitutional Law

This is part 1 of a two-part series