In the realm of criminal justice, the concept of mercy holds a significant place, often manifesting through the mechanism of mercy petitions. In India, the process of filing a mercy petition serves as a crucial avenue for individuals convicted of serious offences to appeal for clemency from the highest executive authority of the nation, the President or the Governor, depending on the jurisdiction. This article aims to delve into the legal framework surrounding mercy petitions in India, elucidating its purpose, procedure, and significance within the realm of criminal law.

Purpose of Mercy Petitions

Mercy petitions constitute a fundamental aspect of the criminal justice system aimed at addressing situations where the strict application of law might lead to undue harshness or injustice. The invocation of mercy seeks to temper justice with compassion, considering factors such as mitigating circumstances, the possibility of reformation, and humanitarian grounds. It provides a safety valve in cases where the judicial process, despite its meticulousness, fails to account for individual nuances or instances where the imposition of the death penalty or other severe punishments may be deemed excessive.

Legal Basis for Mercy Petitions

The authority to grant pardons, reprieves, respites, or remissions of punishment stems from the powers vested in the President under Article 72 of the Indian Constitution and in Governors under Article 161. These provisions bestow upon the executive the discretion to exercise mercy in appropriate cases. While Article 72 pertains to mercy petitions in cases tried by a court-martial or in matters relating to offences against laws enacted by Parliament, Article 161 extends similar powers to the Governors of states.

Procedure for Filing Mercy Petitions

The procedure for filing a mercy petition varies depending on whether the case falls under the purview of the President or the Governor. Typically, the convicted individual or their legal representative submits a mercy petition addressed to the President or Governor, respectively, detailing grounds for mercy and any mitigating factors. The mercy petition is then scrutinized by the Home Ministry or concerned authorities, who prepare a recommendation for the President’s or Governor’s consideration. This recommendation may include legal opinions, facts of the case, and any other relevant information.

Upon receipt of the recommendation, the President or Governor exercises their discretion in deciding whether to grant mercy. This decision is arrived at after due consideration of various factors, including the gravity of the offence, the character of the offender, public interest, and humanitarian grounds. While the executive is not bound by the decision of lower courts or the recommendation of the Home Ministry, it typically gives weight to such opinions in reaching a decision.

Judicial Review of Mercy Petitions

While the power to grant mercy lies with the executive, the judiciary plays a crucial role in ensuring that the process adheres to principles of fairness and justice. The scope of judicial review concerning mercy petitions primarily revolves around examining the procedural aspects of the decision-making process rather than delving into the merits of the case itself. The judiciary ensures that the executive’s decision is not arbitrary, mala fide, or based on irrelevant considerations.

In the landmark case of Kehar Singh v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that while the President’s power under Article 72 is absolute, it is not beyond judicial review. The court emphasized that the President’s decision must be based on valid considerations and not on extraneous or irrelevant factors. Similarly, in Epuru Sudhakar & Anr. v. Govt. of A.P. & Ors., the Supreme Court reiterated that the exercise of mercy powers by the President or Governor is subject to judicial review to prevent any manifest injustice.

Significance and Criticisms

Mercy petitions play a significant role in fostering a humane and just criminal justice system. They provide an avenue for redressal in cases where the imposition of strict legal penalties may lead to disproportionate outcomes. Moreover, mercy petitions allow for individual circumstances to be considered, promoting the principles of fairness and compassion in the administration of justice.

However, the process of mercy petitions has faced criticism on various fronts. Critics argue that it introduces an element of arbitrariness and subjectivity in the justice system, as the decision ultimately rests on the discretion of the executive. Moreover, delays in deciding mercy petitions have been a cause for concern, leading to prolonged agony for the convict and their families. Additionally, there have been instances where mercy petitions have been influenced by political considerations rather than legal or humanitarian grounds, undermining the integrity of the process.


Mercy petitions constitute a vital aspect of the Indian legal framework, offering a mechanism for individuals convicted of serious offences to appeal for clemency. Rooted in principles of compassion and fairness, mercy petitions allow for individual circumstances to be considered in the administration of justice. While the power to grant mercy rests with the executive, judicial oversight ensures that the process adheres to principles of fairness and justice. Moving forward, it is imperative to strike a balance between the need for compassion and the imperative of upholding the rule of law in the exercise of mercy powers

Adv. Khanak Sharma

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