Presidential pardon bypasses legal process

A decision by President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year to commute the death sentence being served by the wife of Minister Milroy Fernando for a double murder to life sentence helped him circumvent a lengthy legal process that needs to be followed with regard to pardoning a person on death row, the Sunday Times learn.

Mary Juliet Monica Fernando was among 13 women whose death sentences were commuted last year and who were freed recently on a Presidential pardon to mark International Women’s Day. Among them were two foreign nationals convicted for drug offences.

According to Article 34 of the Constitution, the President is empowered to grant a pardon to convicts but in cases where an offender has been condemned to death by a court, a pardon can be granted only after the judge who handed down the sentence forwards a report to the Attorney General who in turn sends it with his advice to the Minister of Justice. The report is then forwarded to the President with the necessary recommendations and based on that a pardon can be granted.

However with regard to Ms. Fernando’s case, the need to go through the lengthy legal process did not arise as she was serving a life imprisonment as a result of an earlier presidential decision.

Ms. Fernando was sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court in March, 2005 for her role in the abduction and murder of Charlotte Therese Fernando who was allegedly involved in an extra marital affair with the minister. The victim’s domestic aide Susanhewage Teckla alias Seelawathi was also murdered.

Ms. Fernando was convicted along with three others. The crime took place in 1991, days before Ms. Charlotte Therese was to travel to Italy.

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