The Supreme Court’s lengthy judgement on terrorism offences being non-compoundable is a good step in clarifying what the law establishes with regards to pardoning crimes related to terrorism. The judgement lays down the ground rules for terrorism related offences in isolation and in relation with other crimes committed and establishes the process for review petitions for decreasing sentences in additional charges than those of terrorism.

The ruling states that cases under terrorism are non-compoundable – meaning that the victims of such offences cannot pardon those accused – suspects will have to face the punishment of their crimes. This is positive considering non-compoundable offences are usually those that affect the society at large and not just the victims, and terrorism charges fit the bill perfectly. It also establishes that anyone accused of multiple crimes might be pardoned on non-terrorism charges and the sentence for these may be adjusted accordingly, however, punishments for charges of terrorism might be reduced as a result.

Additionally, the SC verdict allows for cases to be treated as they come, anticipating that each might bring in its own complexities, and allows trial courts to exercise their powers in commuting sentences related to non-terrorism charges. As it stands, this may even lead to the reduction of a death sentence, and the opportunity for those convicted to file two mercy petitions to the President, instead of the one they were allowed previously. By making terrorism charges both non-compoundable and subject to a case-specific understanding, the SC has allowed for a better interpretation of the law by the lower courts, while simultaneously strengthening the punishment for terrorism.

However, all the positives aside, the definitional issue of what terrorism entails is still one that remains problematic in many cases filed across the country. Politicians, activists and members of academic circles have, at one time or another, had terrorism charges levied against them, and to punish citizens under this law for voicing their dissent must be something that is to be avoided at all costs. Having said that, this judgement only pertains to convicts that have had charges of terrorism proven against them, and not those that are accused.

Perhaps, as a next step, the SC can help clarify what constitutes as terrorism, as this would also help in ensuring that justice becomes more equitable in the country. With punishment procedures now firmly grounded in the law, the only way to clarify the question of terrorism-related charges would be to also set a baseline for what the term actually means.