Trial Court Cannot Impose Modified Sentence Of Life Imprisonment Fixing Lengthier Term For Specified Offences: SC
The Supreme Court has held that only High Court and the Supreme Court has the power to impose a modified punishment within the punishment provided for in the Indian Penal Code for specified offences.
The bench of Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice Sanjay Kumar made this observation in a case where Trial Court had imposed a restriction that the term of the rape convict’s life imprisonment should be for at least 20 years and that he should not be given any clemency till then.
“…it was clearly not within the domain of the learned Additional Sessions Judge to impose a restriction that the term of the appellant’s life imprisonment should be for at least 20 years and that he should not be given any clemency till then. Such power could only be exercised by the High Courts or by this Court.”, the bench held.
The Court was hearing an appeal by a man convicted for raping his 9 year old daughter. The scope of the appeal was restricted to the sentence imposed upon the appellant. The Trial Court had sentenced him to life imprisonment and in addition the Additional Sessions Judge directed that the appellant should not be given any clemency by the State before he spent at least 20 years in jail. The Delhi High Court had upheld the conviction and sentence imposed on the appellant.
Advocate Sudhir Naagar appeared for the rape convict and Senior Advocate Sonia Mathur appeared for the State.
The Apex Court referred to its observation in the case of Swamy Shraddananda v. State of Karnataka where it held that a special category of sentence, instead of death, can be substituted by the punishment of imprisonment for life or for a term exceeding 14 years and that category can be put beyond application of remission. It was further held that the power to impose a modified punishment within the punishment provided for in the Penal Code for such specified offences can only be exercised by the High Court and in the event of further appeal, by the Supreme Court, and not by any other Court in the country.
Thus the Court held that it was not within the domain of the Additional Sessions Judge to impose a restriction that the term of the appellant’s life imprisonment should be for at least 20 years and that he should not be given any clemency till then.
The Court also observed that power to impose life imprisonment in excess of 14 years by fixing a lengthier term would be available to the High Courts and the Apex Court, even in cases where the maximum punishment, permissible in law and duly imposed, is life imprisonment with nothing further.
However the Court added that such power must be restricted to grave cases.
The Court noted that in this case the appellant was found guilty of one of the most monstrous and horrific of offences, viz, the physical violation of his own daughter. The Court observed that if the appellant secures release after putting in just 14 years in jail, his possible re-entry into his daughter’s life, while she is still in her twenties, may cause her further trauma and make her life difficult.
Thus the Court held that it was a fit case for exercise of the power to impose a modified special category sentence of fixed-term life imprisonment.
Accordingly the Court ordered “The ends of justice would be sufficiently served if the life imprisonment of the appellant is for a minimum of 20 years of actual incarceration before he can seek remissions under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, or any other enacted law”
Cause Title- Ravinder Singh v. State of NCT of Delhi