SC rules against carrying out death sentence against mentally unfit prisoners

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday ruled that the death penalty should not be carried out against the accused who cannot understand the rationale behind their punishment because of their mental illness. 

A five-member bench headed by Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik handed the verdict on appeals filed against the death sentences of three inmates on death row namely Imdad Ali, Kanizan Bibi and Ghulam Abbas. 

The court converted Imdad Ali and Kanizan Bibi’s death penalties into life imprisonment sentences, directing authorities to send both the accused to the Punjab Institute of Mental Health, Lahore. 

The court sent Ghulam Abbas’s appeal to the president, hoping that he would decide on it in accordance with the apex court’s verdict. 

The Supreme Court directed the federal and provincial governments to provide better health facilities to inmates suffering from mental disorders. The court ordered that a board comprising mental health experts should be formed to gauge the mental condition of convicts on death row. 

“The federal government (for Islamabad Capital Territory) and each provincial government, shall immediately constitute and notify a medical board comprising of three qualified and experienced psychiatrists and two psychologists from public sector hospitals for examination and evaluation of the condemned prisoners who are on death row and are suffering from mental illness to ensure that such mentally ill condemned prisoners […] are not executed,” stated the judgement, according to Dawn.com.

However, the court clarified that not every mental illness will automatically qualify for the death sentence to be exempted. “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,” stated the judgement. 

The apex court called on the Federal Judicial Academy and other provincial judicial academies to train trial court judges, prosecutors, lawyers and court staff on mental illness and forensic mental health assessment. 

Imdad Ali, Kanizan Bibi and Ghulam Abbas were sentenced to death in separate cases. Imdad Ali was handed the death sentence in 2002, Kanizan Bibi was slapped with the death penalty on 1991 and Ghulam Abbas was handed the death sentence in 2004.