Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Upholding the constitutional validity of Rule 8(2)(i) of the Rajasthan Prisons (Shortening of Sentences) Rules, 2006, the bench of Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha, JJ said,

“Manifestly remission not being a matter of right, much less upon completion of 14 years of custody, but subject to rules framed in that regard, including complete denial of the same in specified circumstances, as a matter of State policy, nothing prevents the State from imposing restrictions  in the manner done by Rule 8(2)(i) to consider claims for remission.”

Background

The Court was hearing a batch of appeals filed by persons convicted under Section 302 and other provisions of the Penal Code in different Sessions trials arising from separate unconnected incidents   and sentenced to imprisonment for life. They had contended that they had served more than 14 years in custody but their cases were not placed by the Jail Authorities before the State Advisory Boards for shortening of their sentences and premature release. The had hence, challenged the constitutionality of the impugned Rule for putting a fetter on consideration of their cases till they earned a minimum of four years of remission after completing 14 years of actual imprisonment   excluding remission, as being contrary to Section 433­A Cr.P.C.

Rajasthan High Court’s verdict

The Rules, 2006 were framed by the State Government in exercise of powers under Clause (2) & (5) of Section 59 (1) of the Prisons Act, 1894. The Rajasthan High Court held that the Rules not having been placed before the Legislature of the State as required by Section 59(2) of the Act did not acquire statutory force. Furthermore, the Rules could not have been framed contrary to Section 433­A CrPC. It, hence, struck down the latter part of Rule 8(2)(i) requiring a minimum of four years remission after completion of 14 years in custody on both counts.

SC on Section 59(2) of the Prisons Act

In appeal, the Court held that that

“the plain language of Section 59(2) makes it manifest that there is no requirement for laying of the Rules before the Legislature prior to promulgation. No time limit for laying has been provided. As rightly urged, the use of words “as soon as” coupled with the absence of any consequence for not laying makes the provision directory and not mandatory.”

SC on Section 433-A CrPC

Section 433-­A Cr.P.C. provides that remission or commutation shall not enable release of the convict from prison unless the person had served at least 14 years of imprisonment. It, therefore, fixes a minimum period before which remission could not be considered.

“Any rule that may provide to consider remission before 14 years would obviously be bad in view of the statutory provision contained in the Code.”

[State of Rajasthan v. Mukesh Sharma, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 572, decided on 22.04.2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of NV Ramana, MM Shantanagoudar and Indira Banerjee, JJ held

“it needs to be understood that prisoners tend to have increased affinity to mental illness. Moreover, due to legal constraints on the recognition of broad­spectrum mental illness within the Criminal Justice System, prisons inevitably become home for a greater number of mentally­ill prisoners of various degrees. There is no overlooking of the fact that the realities within the prison walls may well compound and complicate these problems.”

It said that the aspiration of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 was to provide mental health care facility for those who are in need including prisoners. The State Governments are obliged under Section 103 of the Act to setup a mental health establishment in the medical wing of at least one prison in each State and Union Territory, and prisoners with mental illness may ordinarily be referred to andcared for in the said mental health establishment.

The Court was hearing a case of a death row convict suffering from post-conviction mental illness. He is on death row since almost 17 years for rape and murder of 2 young girls. The Court was, hence, called upon to decide

• How culpability be assessed for sentencing those with mental illness?
• Is treatment better suited than punishment?\

The Court noticed that there are no set disorders/disabilities for evaluating the ‘severe mental illness’, however a ‘test of severity’ can be a guiding factor for recognizing those mental illness which qualify for an exemption. Therefore,

“the test envisaged herein predicates that the offender needs to have a severe mental illness or disability, which simply means that a medical professional would objectively consider the illness to be most serious so that he cannot understand or comprehend the nature and purpose behind the imposition of such punishment. These disorders generally include schizophrenia, other serious psychotic disorders, and dissociative disorders­with schizophrenia.”

Test of severity of post-conviction mental disability

  • The post­conviction severe mental illness will be a mitigating factor that the appellate Court, in appropriate cases, needs to consider while sentencing an accused to death penalty.
  • The assessment of such disability should be conducted by a multi­disciplinary team of qualified professionals (experienced medical practitioners, criminologists etc), including professional with expertise in accused’s particular mental illness.
  • The burden is on the accused to prove by a preponderance of clear evidence that he is suffering with severe mental illness. The accused has to demonstrate active, residual or prodromal symptoms, that the severe mental disability was manifesting.
  • The State may offer evidence to rebut such claim.
  • Court in appropriate cases could setup a panel to submit an expert report.
  • ‘Test of severity’ envisaged herein predicates that the offender needs to have a severe mental illness or disability, which simply means that objectively the illness needs to be most serious that the accused cannot understand or comprehend the nature and purpose behind the imposition of such punishment.

Mitigation of sentence in case at hand

The Court noticed that the present accused has been reeling under bouts of some form of mental irritability since 1994, as apparent from the records placed before us. Moreover, he has suffered long incarceration as well as a death row convict. It is this state of ‘accused x’ that obliges the State to act as parens patriae. In this state ‘accused x’ cannot be ignored and left to rot away, rather, he requires care and treatment. The Court, hence, held,

“the petition is allowed to the extent that the sentence of death awarded to the Petitioner is commuted to imprisonment for the remainder of his life sans any right to remission.”

[‘X’ v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 543, decided on 12.04.2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where a 4-year old girl was raped and battered to death by the petitioner, the bench of Dipak Misra, R.F. Nariman and U.U. Lalit, JJ refused to review the death sentence imposed by the bench in Vasanta Sampat Dupare v. State of Maharashtra, (2015) 1 SCC 253. The petitioner had allegedly lured the victim by giving her chocolates, kidnapped and raped her and had then caused crushing injuries to her with the help of stones weighing about 8.5 kg and 7.5 kg.

The review was sought on the grounds that after the Court awarded him death sentence via judgment dated 26.11.2015, the petitioner has completed Bachelors Preparatory Programme offered by the Indira Gandhi National Open University enabling him to prepare for Bachelor level study and that he has also completed the Gandhi Vichar Pariksha and had participated in drawing competition organized sometime in January 2016. It was also asserted that the jail record of the petitioner is without any blemish.

Rejecting the contention, the Court said that the aggravating circumstances namely the extreme depravity and the barbaric manner in which the crime was committed and the fact that the victim was a helpless girl of four years clearly outweigh the mitigating circumstances now brought on record. Hence, it was held that no case was made out to take a different view in the matter. [Vasanta Sampat Dupare v. State of Maharashtra, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 524, decided on 03.05.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where death penalty was sought for a man who allegedly set his 7-month pregnant wife on fire by pouring kerosene oil and also threw their 3-year-old son on the burning body of the deceased, the bench of P.C. Ghose and R.F. Nariman, JJ refused to award death penalty and held that confinement till natural life of the accused shall fulfill the requisite criteria of punishment in peculiar facts and circumstances of the case.

In the present case, the medical evidence had proved that the deceased met an unnatural death. Considering the fact that there is no other eye-witness to the incident as the accused and the deceased were alone at the house at the time of commission of offence, the Court noticed that the failure on the part of the accused to explain how his pregnant wife and their minor child met with unnatural death due to burn injuries sustained at their house leads to an inference which goes against the accused. The Court also took note of the the dying declarations of the deceased with consistent allegations about demand of dowry and modus operandi of the offence which resulted into the death of the declarant and her minor child and held that it is evident that each of the circumstances had been established, the cumulative effect whereof would show that all the links in the chain are complete and the conclusion of the guilt is fully established.

However, based on the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in the Report Number 262 where the abolition of death penalty for all the crimes other than terrorism related offences and waging war (offences affecting National Security) was recommended, the Court said that capital punishment has become a distinctive feature of death penalty apparatus in India which somehow breaches the reformative theory of punishment under criminal law and hence, refused to award the same in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the present case. [State of Maharashtra v. Nisar Ramzan Sayyed, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 356, decided on 07.04.2017]

 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dipak Misra, R. Banumathi and Ashok Bhushan, JJ, while considering the affidavits filed to show the mitigating circumstances by the 4 accused persons in the appeal against the capital punishment in the Nirbhaya Case, noticed that the affidavit filed by the accused Mukesh does not cover many aspects, namely, socio-economic background, criminal antecedents, family particulars, personal habits, education, vocational skills, physical health and his conduct in the prison. It was argued by M.L. Sharma, appearing for Mukesh that the same has not been submitted by the Superintendent of Jail.

The Court, hence, stating that the Superintendent of Jail should have filed the report with regard to the conduct of the accused persons since they are in custody for almost four years as that would have thrown light on their conduct, directed that the report be filed by the Superintendent of Jail in a sealed cover in the Court on the next date of hearing i.e. 20.03.2017.

On 03.02.2017, the Court had agreed to hear the appeal against the capital punishment imposed on the accused persons in the Nirbhaya case and had noticed that there are two modes of dealing the matter at hand, one is to remand the matter and the other is to direct the accused persons to produce necessary data and advance the contention on the question of sentence. However, considering the nature of the case, the bench decided to go with the second mode. [Mukesh v. State for NCT of Delhi, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 213, order dated 06.03.2017]

 

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the case where the refusal to marriage proposal by a girl resulted into a house trespass by the accused carrying an acid bottle and pouring it over the head of the girl and the Hyderabad High Court had reduced the sentence of one year imposed by the Trail Court to the imprisonment already undergone by the accused i.e. 1 month,  the Court said that when a substantive sentence of thirty days is imposed, in the crime of present nature, that is, acid attack on a young girl, the sense of justice is not only ostracized, but also is unceremoniously sent to “Vanaprastha”.

The Court said that the case at hand is an example of uncivilized and heartless crime committed by the accused. It is completely unacceptable that concept of leniency can be conceived of in such a crime. A crime of this nature does not deserve any kind of clemency as it is individually as well as collectively intolerable. When there is medical evidence that there was an acid attack on the young girl and the circumstances having brought home by cogent evidence and the conviction is given the stamp of approval, there was no justification to reduce the sentence to the period already undergone. The bench said that it unfathomable whether the High Court has been guided by some unknown notion of mercy absolutely ignoring the plight and the pain of the victim; a young girl who had sustained an acid attack, a horrendous assault on the physical autonomy of an individual that gets more accentuated when the victim is a young woman or remaining oblivious of the precedents relating to sentence or for that matter, not careful about the expectation of the collective from the court, for the society at large eagerly waits for justice to be done in accordance with law.

Apart from setting aside the order of the High Court and restoring the sentence imposed by the Trial Court, the Court directed the accused to pay a compensation of Rs.50,000/- and the State to pay a compensation of Rs. 3 lakhs. It was further directed that if the accused fails to pay the compensation amount within six months, he shall suffer further rigorous imprisonment of six months, in addition to what has been imposed by the trial court. [Ravad Sasikala v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 175, decided on 27.02.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the review petition seeking modification of sentence awarded to  Sushil Ansal and Gopal Ansal, convicted in the Uphaar Tragedy, the Court refused to reduce the sentence of Gopal Ansal but reduced Sushil Ansal’s sentence of imprisonment to the period undergone owing to the old age and the fact that of the one year period imposed by the Delhi High Court, he has already undergone around nine months including remission. Both will, however, be paying the fine of Rs. 30 Crores each.

Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Kurian Joseph, JJ said that having regard to the fact that the High Court and this Court, in appeal, had limited the imprisonment to one year, the punishment which would serve deterrence and public purpose by both imprisonment and exemplary fine, would be an appropriate punishment in a case like this. They were of the opinion that imposition of expiatory fine in addition to incarceration would serve the penalogical purpose of deterrence having regard also to recidivism.

However, A.K. Goel, J on the other hand said that there is neither any illegality nor any impropriety warranting review of said order passed by this Court. He said that Order of the Court has to be seen as a whole and cannot be split into different sentences. The operative part of the order shows that the Court has tried to balance the interest of justice and while holding that sentence was required to be enhanced, it was added that in lieu of additional period of enhanced sentence, substantial amount of fine was required to be imposed and the fine was to be utilized for setting up of or upgrading the trauma centres of hospitals managed by the Government of Delhi.

On 13.06.1997, there was a fire in Uphaar Cinema, Delhi wherein 59 persons lost their life and about 100 persons were injured. On charge of criminal negligence, apart from others, Sushil Ansal the licencee for running the cinema and his brother Gopal Ansal who was in fact conducting the business of cinema, were convicted under Sections 304-A, 337, 338 read with Section 36, IPC. The Trial Court sentenced them to undergo imprisonment upto two years which was reduced by the High Court to one year. [Association of Victims of Uphaar Tragedy v. Sushil Ansal, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 108, decided on 09.02.2017]

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Showing immense anguish over the disreputable record of road accidents in India, the bench of Dipak Misra and P.C. Pant, JJ asked the lawmakers to scrutinize, re-look and re-visit the sentencing policy in Section 304A IPC.

In the present case, the 2 people had died as an outcome of the rash and negligent driving of a motor vehicle by the respondent. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had reduced the 1 year imprisonment to 24 days i.e. the period already undergone during the trial upon payment of compensation by the respondent. Terming this reduction of sentence to be a mockery of justice, the Court held that the said decision by the High Court was taken absolutely in the realm of misplaced sympathy and that such a crime blights not only the lives of the victims but of many others around them and ultimately shatters the faith of the public in judicial system. Hence, it was held that the one year imprisonment awarded by the Trial Court should be reduced to 6 months and that the respondent be taken into custody forthwith to suffer the remaining period of sentence.

Quoting the words of Sophocles that “Law can never be enforced unless fear supports them”, the Court said that the non-challan drivers feel that they are the “Emperors of all they survey” and that in such cases deterrence is an imperative necessity. Stating that life to the poor or the impecunious is as worth living for as it is to the rich and the luxuriously temperamental, it was further said that neither the law nor the court that implements the law should ever get oblivious of the fact that in such accidents precious lives are lost or the victims who survive are crippled for life which, in a way, worse than death. State of Punjab v. Saurabh Bakshi2015 SCC OnLine SC 278decided on 30.03.2015