A Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya and Justice Dipak Misra has held that in case of a life term, the other sentences would run concurrently. Hence, where a person gets convicted for several charges such as abduction-cum-murder or rape-cum-murder, the sentences won’t run consecutively.
The bench referred to Section 31 of CrPC which relates to the sentence in cases of conviction of several offences at one trial. Proviso to Sub Section (2) to Section 31 lays down the restriction where the aggregate punishment of prisoner is for a period of longer than 14 years.
The appeal was brought against a judgment passed by the High Court of Orissa at Cuttack, upholding the conviction of the appellant for offence under section 376, 302 and 201 IPC. Taking into consideration the facts and circumstances of the case, the age of the appellant, his family background and the fact that the appellant had no criminal antecedent, the capital sentence for the offence under Section 302 IPC had been commuted to life imprisonment by the High Court, with the rest of sentence remain unaltered.
The counsel for the appellant mainly argued on the question of consecutive sentence as passed by the Trial Court and upheld by the High Court. It was contended that Trial Court and the High Court wrongly held that the sentences under Sections 376(f)/302/201 IPC to run consecutively.
The respondent contended that proviso to Sub Section (2) of Section 31 of the CrPC cannot be made applicable to a conviction for life imprisonment under Section 302 IPC.
The Bench observed that a sentence of imprisonment for life means a sentence for entire life of the prisoner unless the appropriate Government chooses to exercise its discretion to remit either the whole or a part of the sentence under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code.
It asserted that, “In view of the fact that life imprisonment means imprisonment for full and complete span of life, the question of consecutive sentences in case of conviction for several offences at one trial does not arise.” Therefore, in case a person is sentenced of conviction of several offences, including one that of life imprisonment, the proviso to Section 31(2) shall come into play and no consecutive sentence can be imposed.
Commenting on the Judgment Mr. M.A.Rashid, Revising Author of ‘Ratan Lal –Dheeraj Lal- Indian Penal Code’ said, “ In my humble opinion, the Judgment is per-incurium”. According to him ‘ the Judgment is in direct conflict with Section 31 of Cr.P.C and precedents. The Court proceeded on the assumption that the embargo that in a sentence for conviction for several offences, accused cannot be sentenced to imprisonment for a period longer than 14 years is applicable to all the cases. In fact it is a proviso attached to S.31 (2) only and not to S.31. Section 31 (2) deals with a situation where the aggregate punishment for the several offences being in excess of the punishment, which a Court is competent to inflict on conviction of a single offence. So this 14 years rule is not applicable to a Sessions Judge or Additional Sessions Judge since he may pass any sentence authorized by law [S.28]. In the case of Ronny v. State of Maharashtra; (1998) 3 SCC 625 : (AIR 1998 SC 1251), the accused persons had committed gang rape on a lady and murder during the course of the same incident. In this case, the Supreme Court felt it appropriate that the sentence under Section 376(2)(g) of I.P.C. for gang rape shall run consecutively after serving the sentence for offence of murder i.e. the Supreme Court directed that the sentence under Section 376(2)(g) of the I.P.C. of 10 years RI shall be served after the sentence of life imprisonment is over. So also, in the case of Ravindra Trimbak Chouthmal v. State of Maharashtra; (1996) 4 SCC 148, the Supreme Court directed that the sentence of seven years RI for the offence under Section 201 of the I.P.C. be directed to run consecutively after the sentence of life imprisonment had run its course. In the case of Ravindra Chouthmal, the accused had murdered his wife and thereafter to cause the evidence of the crime to disappear, he had cut the body and thrown it away. In both these judgments, the Supreme Court directed that after the sentence of life imprisonment had been served, the accused persons shall undergo the sentence for the other offences i.e. the sentences of imprisonment were directed to run consecutively. [quoted from Sunil Anandrao Sawant v. Government of Maharashtra [Bom HC]. More over in a latest Judgment Sanaullah Khan Vs. State of Bihar (2013) 3 SCC 52 ; 2013 CRI. L. J. 1527 Supreme Court had ordered the accused to run three life sentences consecutively in a triple murder case after commuting the death sentence. So it is appropriate that this the important question of law be considered by a larger Bench of the Supreme Court”.
The accused was charged with raping and killing a minor girl aged 10 years, taking her away from her house on the pretext of making her talk on the phone with the brother of the accused. The dead body was recovered according to his statement as recorded under section 27 of the Evidence Act.
Read the judgment here.