A Legal Puzzle not Easy to Solve

 Amba Charan Vashishth

Strange are the ways of God. Terian tu hee jane. (Only God knows how He conducts Himself)so goes another saying. No less strange are the ways of law. The thousands of enactments that have gushed out of the statute book of our State and Central legislatures since the colonial rule and after India became free have turned our system of jurisprudence into a great ocean, unmeasurable and unfathomable. Its waters are so violent and tricky that one cannot touch the shore of one’s destination without the compass of the relevant law and a legal navigator.

The latest case which has dazzled the perception and puzzled the mind of the common man — and, to an extent, even of a legal luminary — is the latest verdict of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which on April 21, 2015 commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence of one Dharam Pal, a resident of Shahpur Turk in Sonipat (Haryana).

He was awarded 10-year imprisonment on January 7, 1991 in a rape case  Out on a parole in 1993, he and his brother Nirmal Singh murdered the rape victim’s father, mother, two brothers and a sister on June 4, 1993, though the rape victim and her husband were able to save their lives. Dharam Pal was awarded death sentence which was upheld by the Supreme Court. In 2013, the President had turned down his mercy plea in a rape case  In 2013, the High Court had extended the stay on his execution fixed on April 15, 2013.

While pronouncing its verdict what weighed with the court was the fact that the President took over 15 years to decide his mercy petition. The other mitigating factor was that Dharam Pal had been on bail in the rape case in which he was, later, acquitted during the pendency of mercy petition.. As a consequence, he will remain behind bars, but not executed. How does his acquittal become a “mitigating circumstance” in the heinous murder of the alleged rape victim’s five family members remains a puzzle?


It must have ben the rarest of the rare cases in which a person who was sentenced to death, whose sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court, whose mercy petition was rejected by the President of India, and whose date of execution was also fixed, though stalled by the court, his sentence has been commuted by the High Court. This baffles the mind of the common man.