The Supreme Court of India has reminded the courts that while imposing sentence, a Court has a duty to respond to the collective cry of the society. The Apex Court said that the agony of the victim or the survivors of the victim cannot be brushed aside.
The Apex Court in its seminal judgment said:
“The legislature in its wisdom has conferred discretion on the Court but the duty of the court in such a situation becomes more difficult and complex. It has to exercise the discretion on reasonable and rational parameters. The discretion cannot be allowed to yield to fancy or notion. A Judge has to keep in mind the paramount concept of rule of law and the conscience of the collective and balance it with the principle of proportionality but when the discretion is exercised in a capricious manner, it tantamounts to relinquishment of duty and reckless abandonment of responsibility. One cannot remain a total alien to the demand of the socio-cultural milieu regard being had to the command of law and also brush aside the agony of the victim or the survivors of the victim. Society waits with patience to see that justice is done. There is a hope on the part of the society and when the criminal culpability is established and the discretion is irrationally exercised by the court, the said hope is shattered and the patience is wrecked. It is the duty of the court not to exercise the discretion in such a manner as a consequence of which the expectation inherent in patience, which is the “finest part of fortitude” is destroyed. A Judge should never feel that the individuals who constitute the society as a whole is imperceptible to the exercise of discretion. He should always bear in mind that erroneous and fallacious exercise of discretion is perceived by a visible collective.”
A bench of the Apex Court comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant while dealing with a case wherein sentence awarded to the accused under Section 306 IPC was minimal, held in a judgment rendered on Tuesday that the court of first instance as well as the appellate court which includes the High Court, either on individual notion or misplaced sympathy or personal perception seems to have been carried away by passion of mercy, being totally oblivious of lawful obligation to the collective as mandated by law and forgetting the oft-quoted saying of Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo “Justice, though due to the accused, is due to the accuser too” and follow an extremely liberal sentencing policy which has neither legal permissibility nor social acceptability.
The factual matrix of the case was as follows: The respondent nos. 2 to 4 (before SC) stood trial for the offence punishable under Section 306 IPC. Initially the FIR was registered under Section 302 IPC but during investigation, the investigating agency had converted the offence to one under Section 306 IPC. The charge was framed in respect of the offence under Section 306 IPC and the plea of the accused persons was one of complete denial.
After determining the guilt, while imposing the sentence, the learned trial Judge has held that:-
“As per record, all the convicts are the first offender and they also belong to a weaker section of the society. While it has also come on record that the deceased had teased Seema, daughter of accused Satbir Singh. As such, all of them have committed an offence punishable u/s 306 of the Indian Penal Code. So, keeping in view the nature of the offence and other circumstances of the case and in order to meet the ends of justice, I think that a lenient view is required to be taken on the quantum of sentence. So, I sentence all the three convicts to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of three years each with a fine of Rs.3,000/- (Rs. Three thousand only) each and in default of payment thereof to undergo R.I. for six months. ”
Being aggrieved by the said judgment of conviction and order of sentence, the respondents preferred a criminal appeal before the High Court which affirmed the conviction.
As far as the criminal appeal is concerned, the High Court gave the stamp of approval to the conviction but as regards the sentence, it held thus:-
“As regards the quantum of sentence of imprisonment, this Court, hereby, refers to the jail custody certificates, as per which each of the appellants has undergone a period of 4 months and 20 days. They are not found to be involved in any other criminal case. In view of the totality of the circumstances, this Court is of the considered view that no useful purpose will be served by sending the appellants back to jail for remaining sentences of imprisonment. Ends of justice would be amply met if their substantive sentences of imprisonment are reduced to the one already undergone by them.
The reduction of sentence was the primary grievance in one of the appeals before the Supreme Court.
The Apex Court said that it is really unfathomable how the High Court could have observed that no useful purpose would be serve by sending the accused persons to jail for undergoing their remaining sentences of imprisonment, for the High Court itself has recorded that the appellants therein had remained in custody only for a period of four months and twenty days.
It was in this context that the afore extracted ruling warning courts against undue and misplaced sympathy towards accused and arbitrary exercise of judicial discretion came to be delivered.
Consequently, the appeal, as far as the challenge to the reduction of sentence by the High Court was concerned stood allowed by the Supreme Court and the judgment of conviction and order of sentence by the trial Judge was restored.
Read the Judgment here.