The Jessica Lal murder case is a true example in the history of Indian Judiciary where immunity enjoyed by the powerful elite was clear as daylight along with vulnerability of the masses. The Delhi High Court convicted Manu Sharma, son of former Congress leader Venod Sharma in 2006 after 32 witnesses turned hostile and the trial court acquitted him. Later there was widespread movement all over the country with this specific case. Incidentally, late Jessica Lal’s sister Sabrina Lal has written a letter to Tihar Jail’s Welfare Officer that she won’t object to the release of Manu Sharma, killer of her sister. The letter has come to the media six months after Manu Sharma was moved to a semi-open jail.
Who has the authority to pardon any convict? Legally, Under Articles 72 and 161 of Indian Constitution, the President of India and Governors of states have been given the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence. Anyhow there can be absolute pardons or conditional pardon and no other person has the sole authority to pardon any convict. No doubt, Sabrina Lal’s letter has no significance from legal perspective. In general, for a person serving life term imprisonment, the jail authorities constantly monitor whether the convict makes an exemplary journey from guilt to reconciliation to reform or not. No doubt, the whole issue of pardoning someone is sensitive and has to be interpreted in the backdrop of prison reform and psychology of pardons.
As of now, it is not clear whether Sabrina Lal wrote the letter out of sympathy or she was forced to write such. But considering the rarity and sensitiveness of the case, it is not at all an easy task to take a decision on pardoning Manu Sharma. Nevertheless, there is indeed a scope for prison reforms where state governments can engage services of psychologists or social counselors who can visit the prison on a daily basis to counsel the offenders especially the first time offenders. The grievance of the inmates of the jail is also another aspect which needs to be looked upon with much care in the coming days.