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Life sentence means jail term for entire life: SC

November 25, 2012 11:48 IST

Clearing a misconception on life term imprisonment, the Supreme Court in a significant ruling, has held that life imprisonment implies a jail term for convict's entire life.

The apex court also said that its Constitution bench's landmark judgement of 1980 on criterion for imposing death penalty needs a 'fresh look' as there has been 'no uniformity' in following its principles on what constitutes 'the rarest of rare' cases.

"It appears to us there is a misconception that a prisoner serving a life sentence has an indefeasible right to be released on completion of either fourteen years or twenty years imprisonment. The prisoner has no such right.

"A convict undergoing life imprisonment is expected to remain in custody till the end of his life, subject to any remission granted by the appropriate government," said a bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and Madan B Lokur.

The bench, however, clarified that under remission the appropriate government cannot reduce the period of sentence less than 14 years for a life convict.

"In the case of a convict undergoing life imprisonment, he will be in custody for an indeterminate period. Therefore, remissions earned by or awarded to such a life convict are only notional. In his case, to reduce the period of incarceration, a specific order under Section 432 of the CrPC will have to be passed by the appropriate government. However, the reduced period cannot be less than 14 years as per Section 433-A of the CrPC," the apex court said.

The apex court order also seeks to put an end to the practice of en-masse release of the convicts by various governments on 'festive' occasions and said each release requires a case-by-case basis scrutiny.

The apex court said that there is no uniformity in recent decisions on criteria for awarding death sentence which has become more judge-centric.

"In sentencing process, both the crime and the criminal are equally important. We have, unfortunately, not taken the sentencing process as seriously as it should be with the result that in capital offences, it has become judge-centric sentencing rather than principled sentencing," the bench said.

"This court has not endorsed the approach of aggravating and mitigating circumstances in Bachan Singh (case). However, this approach has been adopted in several decisions. This needs a fresh look. In any event, there is little or no uniformity in the application of this approach," said a bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and Madan B Lokur.

The famous case of Bachan Singh versus State of Punjab, decided 32 years ago by the apex court, had dealt with two issues - the first pertained to the constitutional validity of the death penalty for murder as provided in Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and second one was on 'sentencing procedure embodied in sub-section (3) of Section 354 of the CrPC, 1973'.

It had dealt with aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the case. While aggravating circumstances deal with the offence, the mitigating circumstances relate to the offender.

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