Kerala High Court: Ashok Menon, J., directed release of a 60-year-old man convicted in 14 criminal cases taking into account that the convict had already undergone 15 years of imprisonment and would have to be in jail for more than 18 years since sentence in all the cases were running consecutively.
The petitioner, convicted in 14 criminal cases pertain to offences like theft, housebreaking, lurking house trespass by night, theft of property from inside the house, etc had approached the Court seeking order to direct his punishments run concurrently. It was the case of the petitioner that he had pleaded guilty and was convicted in all the cases for a period ranging between 6 months imprisonment to 5 years imprisonment and had been in prison since 10-04-2003.
The petitioner contended that being indulged in different cases committed at different periods of time and pending before different courts, none of the courts exercised the discretion under Section 427 CrPC to order the sentences to run concurrently. In such case, the sentences were to run consecutively one after the other, thus, he would has to remain behind bars for 30 years and 6 months. Stating his old age and ill health the petitioner stated that his continued detention was illegal and therefore, specific orders may be made directing the jail authorities to release him.
Reliance was placed by the petitioner on the decision of Supreme Court in State of Maharashtra v. Najakat, (2001) 6 SCC 311 wherein it was observed that for granting the benefit of set-off under Section 428 of the CrPC, the pre-trial detention of the accused has to be in the same case and not in a different case as is held by the Supreme Court. It was the case of the petitioner that he had pleaded guilty in all the cases and in consequence that he was awarded different sentences ranging from six months to five years of imprisonment and had been in custody now for a period of more than 15 years.
As per the report filed by the Superintendent of Central Prison & Correctional Home, after adjusting the set off granted by the Court, the remaining sentences would have to run consecutively and under those circumstances, the petitioner had not completed his term of imprisonment in all the cases.
Observation and Decision
Opining that the very fact that power under Section 482 of the CrPC is vested only in the High Court is a safeguard for the power being not abused, the Bench expressed that utmost care and caution is required while invoking the powers. Quoting its decision in Moosa v. Sub Inspector of Police, 2005 SCC OnLine Ker 605, the Bench stated, the object of exercise of power being to prevent abuse of process of court and also to secure the ends of justice, it follows that ends of justice are higher than the ends of mere law.
Reliance was placed by the Court on the Supreme Court’s decision in Benson v. State of Kerala, (2016) 10 SCC 307 wherein the Court had held that the normal rule regarding consecutive running of sentence is subject to a qualification and it is within the power of the Court to direct that the subsequent sentence shall run concurrently with the previous sentence. Accordingly, the Supreme Court had directed that sentences imposed in different theft cases should run concurrently.
Noticing that in Benson’s case the Supreme Court considered the fact that the petitioner was involved in several cases and that he would has to undergo imprisonment for three decades in case the sentences were to be undergone consecutively, the Bench opined that in the instant case, the facts were almost similar and the petitioner had already undergone more than 15 years imprisonment and the maximum imprisonment that was awarded to him in one case was only 5 years. Therefore, considering the fact that the petitioner had not even contested the cases and had pleaded guilty, in consequence of which he was sentenced to imprisonment and that he was more than 60 years old and would has to be in prison for more than 18 years, the Bench exercised jurisdiction under Section 482 of the CrPC and directed to release the accused recording that he had undergone the sentence in all the crimes in which he was convicted.[Sivanandan v. State Of Kerala, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 2822, decided on 20-07-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.
For the petitioner: Adv.V.John Sebastian Ralph, Adv. Jefrin Manuel, Adv. K.J.Joseph Ernakulam And Adv. V.John Thomas
For the Respondent: Pp. C.S.Hritwik