Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday barred the execution of inmates suffering from mental disorder, observing that carrying out the death sentence does not “meet the ends of justice” if a convict was unable to comprehend the rationale behind the punishment.
A five-member bench headed by Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik passed the order on the appeals of mentally ill death-row prisoners- Kanizan Bibi, Imdad Ali and Ghulam Abbas – who have respectively served 30, 18 and 14 years on the death row.
The petitioners, who showed symptoms of mental illness, demanded that their sentence be commuted.
The court commuted the death sentences of Kanizan Bibi and Imdad Ali to life imprisonment and directed that a fresh mercy petition be filed to the Pakistan President on behalf of Ghulam Abbas.
The court observed that carrying out the death sentence does not “meet the ends of justice” if a convict was unable to comprehend the rationale behind the punishment due to a mental illness.
It also ordered the Punjab government to shift the accused from prison to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health, Lahore, for treatment and rehabilitation.
However, the bench in the judgment clarified that not every mental illness shall automatically qualify for an exemption from carrying out the death sentence.
“This exemption will be applicable only in that case where a medical board, consisting of mental health professionals, certifies after a thorough examination and evaluation that the condemned prisoner no longer has higher mental functions to appreciate the rationale behind the sentence of death awarded to them,” the judgment read.
The court also directed the authorities to set up high security forensic mental health facilities at teaching and training mental health institutions. It also asked to change laws to properly define mental illness so that it should not be confused with generic terms like “unsound mind”, “lunatic” and “insane”.
Reacting to the judgement, Justice Project Pakistan, a rights group campaigning for the release of mentally ill inmates, in a statement said, “this is a historic judgment that validates our decade-long struggle to get the courts to recognise mental illness as a mitigating circumstance against the imposition of the death penalty.”
“We are grateful to all the honourable judges on the bench for affirming the rights of the most vulnerable prisoners through explicit recognition of domestic safeguards and international human rights principles,” said Sarah Belal, Executive Director of Justice Project Pakistan.