first published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page
October 14, 2006
There is a difference between law and equity (or natural justice). The power of pardon is an equitable power. Commuting a death-sentence is a partial pardon By SUBROTO ROY
“Fiat justitia pereat mundus” ~let justice be done even if the world shall perish ~ is a maxim only Immanuel Kant among the great philosophers may have wished to maintain. Yet it serves to remind us that there exist wrong reasons for carrying out as well as wrong reasons for not carrying out the death-sentence on Afzal Guru. Wrong reasons for carrying out the death-sentence include saying that only by his death will families of the victims of the Parliament attack receive satisfaction (justice is hardly the same thing as revenge) or that only thereby can the Indian Republic show itself to be standing up to terrorism. Wrong reasons for not carrying out the death-sentence include saying Afzal’s death would be seen as unjust by many people in J&K and result in further civil or political turmoil there or elsewhere, or that more terrorism will result.
Justice should be done and be seen to be done to Afzal by the Indian Republic ~ here as elsewhere, justice is a matter between an individual and the State. The question remains open whether such justice involves his death or his imprisonment for life or even his being paroled in due course. Unlike Praveen Mahajan for example, Afzal has not committed premeditated first-degree murder or parricide. He is from an Indian State where there has existed some separatist sentiment for decades, and evidently he has been an accomplice to an act of war against India involving attempted kidnapping or mass murder. If he is an Indian national, he may have been treasonous and seditious; if he is a Pakistani national or wishes to be treated as such, he may have been some kind of spy, agent provocateur or saboteur, or an accomplice of such people. The moral question before India today has to do with what precisely is the nature and quality of justice to be dispensed in this particular case, in these particular factual circumstances as far as presently known, given all the principles, precedents, rules and laws available.
Someone may fairly wonder how or why it is possible the President of India has any discretion at all left to commute a sentence of death once the judiciary up until the Supreme Court of India has spoken. The answer has to do with the subtle distinction that is still made in common law countries like Britain, the USA and India between law and equity or “natural justice”. Britain ever since the 13th Century has had an institution known as “Lord Chancellor” in whose person came to be combined the highest judicial and executive roles (Tony Blair’s New Labour Government is due to abolish it). “Chancery” or courts of equity traditionally were parallel to courts of law, recognising that normal legal processes may cause justice to sometimes fail (especially in corrupt times) and hence require direct executive intervention. In the United States today, equity is embodied in Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules, and federal courts are empowered to oversee all other courts including themselves for violations of natural justice.
By way of example having nothing necessarily to do with capital punishment, “solicitation of counsel, clerks or judges” is embracery curialis, recognized as extrinsic fraud and subversion of justice since Jepps 72 E R 924 (1611), “firmly established in English practice long before the foundation” of the USA, Hazel Atlas, 322 US 238 (1943). “Embracery is an offense striking at the very foundation of civil society” says Corpus Juris 20, 496. A court of equity has inherent power to investigate if a judgement has been obtained by fraud, and that is a power to unearth it effectively, since no fraud is more odious than one to subvert justice. Cases include when “by reason of something done by the successful party… there was in fact no adversary trial or decision of the issue in the case. Where the unsuccessful party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his case, by fraud or deception practised on him by his opponent, as … where an attorney fraudulently or without authority assumes to represent a party and connives at his defeat; or where the attorney regularly employed corruptly sells out his client’s interest to the other side ~ these, and similar cases which show that there has never been a real contest in the trial or hearing of the case, are reasons for which a new suit may be sustained to set aside and annul the former judgment or decree, and open the case for a new and a fair hearing….” Hazel Atlas. Fraud on the court includes that “perpetrated by officers of the court so that the judicial machinery cannot perform in the usual manner its impartial task of adjudging cases that are presented for adjudication” Moore’s Federal Practice 60-360.
Equitable action under Rule 60(b) can vacate judgment whenever such action is appropriate to accomplish justice. (In contemporary American federal judicial processes at least in the present author’s experience over two decades, this rather subtle branch of jurisprudence may have become known, however, more in its breach than fulfilment).
The power of pardon is one such supra-legal equitable power of the executive authority. For a state’s chief executive to pardon a crime is to release someone of guilt or to remit punishment. In Britain, the power is with the Government’s Home Office and in the old Commonwealth it was delegated to the Governor-General. In the USA it is a power of the President or State Governors to pardon crimes, and the most famous case was that of President Gerald Ford pardoning his predecessor Richard M. Nixon. Pervez Musharraf recently pardoned A Q Khan. Both highlight the fact the power of granting a full pardon is to be exercised rarely, and may be justifiable only on grounds of “Reasons of State” where someone has done something unlawful which the State is willing to condone for sake of some greater good in the national interest. But a pardon also can be partial, requiring the offender fulfil a condition such as serving a lesser substituted punishment. Commuting a death sentence by requiring the offender to serve life in prison is this sort of conditional pardon.
In India today, the President under Article 72 of the Constitution is empowered “to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute” a sentence of death and also intervene in other cases. Article 161 gives a lesser power to State Governors. These are singular examples of the acknowledged presence of equity in modern Indian jurisprudence, though our customary laws remain a vast untapped source of natural justice, (viz. Tagore Law Lectures 1905-1906 by SN Roy). Just last week, a Supreme Court bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice SH Kapadia ruled the power of reprieve, pardon or remission of sentence may not be exercised for “political considerations or on the basis of religion, caste or other extraneous factors”. There must be bona fide valid reasons. The bench set aside an Andhra Pradesh order passed by a Governor from the Congress Party remitting the sentence of imprisonment awarded to a Congress leader in a murder case involving a Telegu Desam Party victim. In an egregious violation of his discretion, the Governor had said the sentence already undergone was sufficient and directed release, but the Supreme Court in November 2005 admitted a petition challenging the order and stayed it. The Court has now held that exercise of the power is subject to judicial review and it may not be exercised for extraneous, political or mala fide reasons. The Court has thereby enlarged its role in equity (or natural justice) similar to that which American federal courts have had under Rule 60(b). There is also an argument for abolishing Article 161.
In cases of equitable treatment of capital punishment in India today like that of Afzal (or Dhananjay before him), the fact the Executive has notoriously starved our Judiciary of adequate resources ever since Independence (The Statesman, 26 February 2006) also may not be something irrelevant to evaluating the likelihood of a mistake having been made. All things considered, if justice is to be done and seen to be done in Afzal’s case, the Indian Republic should be in no hurry whatsoever in deciding to either execute him or to even release him.
From Facebook 31 March 2014
Why was Afzal hanged in such a hurry and almost in secret? Why did the BJP bay for his death so loudly every day, getting the Congress scared they would lose an election if they did not? Competitive foolishness just as over Telengana. Afzal had not pulled any trigger. That it was an avoidable injustice is made apparent by the Supreme Court commuting the death sentences of other political murderers, including Rajiv Gandhi’s killers and now Bhullar…
From Facebook 24 November 2012
I did not think Kasab should have been hanged principally as it was on the basis of his evidence that India cracked the case and he deserved some jurisprudential credit for that. He was the star witness for the prosecution against the terrorist masterminds who had sent him. Separately, I also do not believe, all things considered, that Afzal should be hanged, though there may be nothing defective in law against his conviction and sentence and he has had some legal bad luck. The law of pardon or commutation is of an equitable nature, beyond the normal law itself…His cooperation with the police would be the reason for his life to be spared — besides the fact that he pulled no trigger to kill anyone himself nor caused anyone else to do so.
From Facebook August 12 2011:
Subroto Roy has now for the first time been able to read the Supreme Court judgement affirming Afzal Guru’s death sentence, commuting Shaukat’s, and affirming the acquittal of Gillani. It does not seem defective in law. Afzal Guru was perhaps misrepresented by lawyers or misled himself into confessing his crimes very early on. But hand-in-glove with the murderous terrorists he certainly appears to have been. The fact he helped the police with his confession may be the only equitable reason for the President to commute the sentence.
First published in The Statesman Editorial Page, 6 April 2006
Ayatollah Khomeini was the Ho Chi Minh of Iran. Ho was both a communist and a Vietnamese nationalist, but America’s Presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon failed to see the latter. Khomeini was both a devout Shia Muslim and an Iranian nationalist yet America’s Presidents from Carter to W. Bush refused to see his Revolution being as much about Iranian nationalism as about creating an Islamic Republic. As a general rule, Western countries allow for nationalism among other Western countries but not among non-Western countries. Immanuel Kant’s dictum of treating everyone as an end in himself/herself and not as a means towards one’s own ends, is applied in intra-Western international relations but often not when the West deals with others. But Indians did not have to be communists to sympathise with Vietnam’s struggle against first France and then America, and Indians do not have to be Shia Muslims to sympathise with Iran’s struggle against an impending Anglo-American aggression. The opaque Manmohan- Montek deal-making with America on behalf of India’s people may need to be set aside in such a context — while it might benefit several dozen businesses on both sides and several hundred bureaucrats may become even fatter with bribes, it may have next to nothing to do with any dimension of India’s national interests.
US pledge 1981, policy 2006
On January 19 1981, the Government of the United States signed what came to be called the Algiers Accord, the first point of which stated: “Non-Intervention in Iranian Affairs: The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” This was part of a comprehensive truce between Khomeini’s Iran and the USA in regard to the war-like conditions then prevailing between them. That pledge now seems about to be broken. British newspapers reported on April 2 2006 that the Blair Government is holding “secret talks” with its own Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Defence Intelligence and others to discuss “an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb… if Tehran’s leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment programme.” This is despite the British foreign minister saying last month “that a military attack against Iran was ‘inconceivable’”. America’s “National Security Strategy” dated March 16 2006 states the policy clearly: “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran. For almost 20 years, the Iranian regime hid many of its key nuclear efforts from the international community. Yet the regime continues to claim that it does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. The Iranian regime’s true intentions are clearly revealed by the regime’s refusal to negotiate in good faith; its refusal to come into compliance with its international obligations by providing the IAEA access to nuclear sites and resolving troubling questions; and the aggressive statements of its President calling for Israel to ‘be wiped off the face of the earth’. The United States has joined with our EU partners and Russia to pressure Iran to meet its international obligations and provide objective guarantees that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided. As important as are these nuclear issues, the United States has broader concerns regarding Iran. The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom. The nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system, and afford freedom to its people. This is the ultimate goal of U.S. policy. In the interim, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct. The problems lie with the illicit behavior and dangerous ambition of the Iranian regime, not the legitimate aspirations and interests of the Iranian people. Our strategy is to block the threats posed by the regime while expanding our engagement and outreach to the people the regime is oppressing.“
In one scenario, America will make a surprise cruise-missile attack on Iranian buildings “suspected” of producing biological weapons. If the Iranians respond in any way other than total submission, it will be sufficient to launch a major bombing of Iran’s military facilities using B-2 bombers based in Diego Garcia, England and other American bases, possibly using nuclear “earth penetrating” weapons to attack underground facilities. Of course it is not impossible the British and Americans are merely setting up a bluff to scare the Iranians into complying without a fight, but the existence of aggressive war plans and preparations cannot be doubted.
Now it is possible the Americans will say they are not bound by the pledge made in the Algiers Accord in January 1981 to not intervene in Iran’s affairs. In breach of all diplomatic law, 66 Americans had been taken captive by Iranians seizing the American Embassy on November 4 1979. Six others escaped with the help of the Canadian and Swedish embassies. Of the 66, 13 women and black Americans were released two weeks later; one man was released due to ill-health in July 1980. The remaining 52 including two women and one black American were released on January 20 1981 by the terms of the Algiers Accord just before Ronald Reagan took over as President of the United States. Eight American military personnel were killed on April 25 1980 in a failed attempt to rescue them. The official designations of the 52 (who had been held captive for 444 days) included 10 military attachés; 6 “communications and electronics specialists”; 8 political and administrative officers, and 12 diplomatic/consular staff. In addition there were 12 guards and 4 others. Even if the US Embassy in Tehran was a den of spies as the Iranians claimed, the Revolutionary Government could have ordered them all to leave and to have ended diplomatic relations in accordance with international law. What explained Iranians’ anger for them to have violated international law so brazenly? That was the age before terrorism, and nor was Iran a player in the conflict between Israel and the Arabs.
Iran’s anger stemmed from having felt being used by Britain, America and Soviet Russia for half a century before the 1979 Khomeini Revolution – from having been merely means towards their ends in violation of the Kantian dictum. It was almost as if Britain and America had said to Iran and the entire Middle East, “We invented the internal combustion engine and the automobile which uses it, and we also discovered the petroleum that runs it; the mere fact you happen to sit on this petroleum does not make you own it; we own it too and we will take it by force whenever necessary.” During the Cold War, the USSR followed suit, and now after the Cold War has ended, the new Russia is a Western ally in the same kind of attempted domination over non-Western countries like Iran (or Pakistan and India, who get sold a lot of useless weapons to fight each other with).
Mossadeq the democrat
Specifically, if the January 1981 Algiers Accord was signed by the USA under duress, the Iranians could say that Iran had been cheated into signing the 25 year agreement of September 1954 with an international oil consortium led by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Iran would receive 50% profit on all Iranian oil exported, after paying the AIOC ₤25 million in compensation for having nationalised it in 1951 under the democratic government of Mohammad Mossadeq which had broken off diplomatic relations with Britain. Mossadeq was overthrown by an Anglo-American coup détat in August 1953, and replaced by the compliant General Fazlollah Zahedi and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Arthur Millspaugh, an American invited by the Iranians to help their public finances, once wrote: “Persia cannot be left to herself, even if the Russians were to keep their hands off politically. …Persia has never yet proved its capacity for independent self-government.” Millspaugh’s 1925 book titled America’s Task in Persia seems to have remained the handbook of Western policy towards Iran. Khomeini’s Revolution was its antithesis.
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