Supreme Court: In a criminal petition filed by the convict for offences punishable under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) and Section 27 of the Arms Act, 1959, seeking premature release, the Division Bench of S. Ravindra Bhat* Prashant Kumar Mishra, JJ. allowed the petition and directed the Remission Board to reconsider the application of the convict for premature release.
In the matter at hand, the convict was convicted on 24-05-2001 for murdering three persons, including two police personnels. The convict had shot at the deceased victims in a premediated and planned manner. The Trial Court had sentenced the convict to undergo rigorous imprisonment for life. Subsequently, the Patna High Court affirmed the Trial Court’s conviction order.
An affidavit was filed by the State indicating that the convict had completed 14 years of actual imprisonment (on 19-07-2013), and as on 26-07-2023, over 24 years of actual imprisonment were completed. A remission of over 4 years and 8 months was earned. The convict completed 20 years of actual imprisonment on 19-07-2019, and if computed with remission earned as per prevailing rules, then on 05-11-2014 itself. The Remission Board considered the convict’s case. However, the Board rejected the application for premature release of the convict despite a favourable report by the Probation Officer and Superintendent of Police.
The High Court had also rejected the convict’s plea for premature release. The convict’s case was again considered by the Remission Board. The proposal was rejected again due to the negative opinions of the Superintendent of Police and the Presiding Officer of the Trial Court and Rule 529(iv)(b) of the remission policy in Bihar Jail Manual was considered which provides for ‘prisoners who have been convicted for organized murder in a premeditated manner and in an organized manner’ as a ground for ‘Ineligibility for premature release’.
Analysis and Decision
The Court perused the Sections 432(1) and 432(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (‘CrPC’) which empowers the appropriate Government to suspend or remit sentences and applies only in the case of additional remission, over and above what is earned as per the jail manual or statutory rules and procedure seeking opinion of the Presiding Judge of the Convicting Court, respectively.
The Court stated that sentencing is a judicial exercise of power. The Court reiterated that the execution of the awarded sentence is purely an execution function, which includes the grant of remission, commutation, pardon, reprieves, or suspension of sentence. Referring to State of Haryana v. Mohinder Singh, (2000) 3 SCC 394 and Sangeet v. State of Haryana, (2013) 2 SCC 452, the Court said that executive power, though discretionary in nature, has to be exercised fairly, reasonably, and not arbitrarily. If the power is not exercised fairly, the Court would be compelled to exercise judicial review and in appropriate cases remit the matter for reconsideration. Further, the Court referred to trajectory of case laws that have outlined the parameters to be considered while granting remission.
The Court noted that the Remission Board rejected the convict’s application for premature release twice due to the adverse report submitted by the Presiding Judge. The Court perused the reports of the Presiding Judge and found that they demonstrated casual opinions, based on the judicial records highlighting the guilt of the convict. The Court said that the said report offered only a dated insight on the petitioner which gave a limited opportunity to consider the progress made by the convict during the course of serving the sentence. The Court also noted that the Remission Board privileged the Presiding Judge’s opinion over the report of the other authorities such as the Probation Officer, and Jail authorities, who are in a far better position to comment on the post-conviction reformation. The Court viewed that overemphasis on the Presiding Judge’s opinion and complete disregard of comments of other authorities, while concluding the decision for grant of Remission, would render the Government’s decision as unsustainable. The Court said that if the opinion/ view of the Presiding Judge, based on the judicial record, is mechanically followed, then the discretion of the executive empowered with execution of the sentence, would be denuded of its content. The Court also added that such an approach would subvert the concept of remission.
Further, the Court said that the appropriate Government should take a holistic view of all the opinions received, including the judicial view of the Presiding Judge of the Court concerned, keeping in mind the purpose and objective of remission. The Court explained that the views of the Presiding Judge are based on the record which contains all the facts, nature of the crime, etc. which resulted in conviction. However, the post-conviction conduct, particularly, resulting in the prisoner’s earned remissions, their age and health, work done, length of actual incarceration, etc., rarely fall within the said Judge’s domain. Hence, the Court said that the judicial involvement in executive decision making is limited to the inputs regarding the nature of the crime, its seriousness, etc. The Court also noted that the Superintendent of Police had also submitted an adverse report in the second round before the Remission Board. The Court said that the appropriate Government has to be aware of the latent prejudices of the crime, but not always. The Court said that such as in the present case, the deceased victims were police personnels and it might be possible that such bias may influence the report and hence, cannot be given determinative value.
The Court also pointed that apart from considering the nature of the crime, chances of recurrence, etc. the appropriate Government should consider the convict’s age, state of heath, familial relationships and possibility of reintegration, extent of earned remission, post-conviction conduct, educational qualification attained during custody, volunteer services offered, job/work done, jail conduct, whether they were engaged in any socially aimed or productive activity, and the overall development as a human being, while considering the potential of the convict to commit crimes in the future. Thus, the Court suggested that the Remission Board should not entirely rely either on the Presiding Judge or Police report. The Court also suggested and viewed that it would serve the ends of justice if the convict applying for premature release were interviewed by a qualified psychologist and such report would benefit the appropriate Government.
In the matter at hand, the Court noted that the date of conviction of the convict was 24-05-2001, which was prior to the 2002 Policy on Remission. The Court pointed out that in pre-2002 policy there was no mention of ineligibility criteria and the Remission Board had, while rejecting the convict’s application had relied on Rule 529(iv)(b) of the 2002 Policy. Therefore, the Court viewed that it would be appropriate for the Remission Board to reconsider the convict’s application for remission. The Court said that the reports of the police and other authorities, the post-prison record of the convict, the remissions earned (including that which is earned for good conduct) his age, health condition, family circumstances, and his potential for social engagement, in a positive manner should all be considered. The Court had also directed the Presiding Judge concerned to provide an opinion on the petitioner’s application for premature release by examining the judicial record and provide adequate reasoning within one month from the date of judgment.
Therefore, the Court allowed the petition.
[Rajo v. State of Bihar, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1068, Decided on: 25-08-2023]
*Judgment Authored by: Justice S. Ravindra Bhat