29 July 2023 2:24 PM GMT
The Calcutta High Court has recently directed the West Bengal State Sentence Review Board (“the Board”) to reconsider the plea of a petitioner, who has spent 23 years in incarceration, for remission of sentence, upon noting that the Board which had considered the plea was not only improperly constituted, but had also failed to consider the National Human Rights Commission...
The Calcutta High Court has recently directed the West Bengal State Sentence Review Board (“the Board”) to reconsider the plea of a petitioner, who has spent 23 years in incarceration, for remission of sentence, upon noting that the Board which had considered the plea was not only improperly constituted, but had also failed to consider the National Human Rights Commission (“NHRC”) Guidelines on early-release of prisoners.
In finding that not only did the Board lack the presence of a District judge, as was statutorily mandated, a single-bench of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya also observed that it had failed to consider crucial tests for early release of prisoners, such as behaviour during incarceration, likelihood of committing similar crimes, etc. It held:
Although a presumption may very well be raised in the present case that the prescribed procedure was substantially complied with by the State, even proceeding on such premise, it is seen that the consideration by the Sentence Review Board did not take into account the relevant criteria and yardsticks stipulated by the Guidelines of the Human Rights Commission. Tests, such as the conduct and behaviour of the prisoner in jail during the period of incarceration, his behaviour/conduct during the period he was released on probation leave, change in his behavioural pattern during his incarceration, the potential of the petitioner to commit similar crime again and/or to create conditions which might be detrimental to the people of his neighbourhood, have not been considered in detail in the said Review Board’s meeting.
That apart, the composition of the Board is also de hors the provisions of the Guidelines, since the concerned District Judge was not a member of the said Board. Keeping in view such criteria, the matter is required to be remanded back to the State Sentence Review Board for a further consideration It is expected that such reconsideration shall be held as expeditiously as possible, preferably within three months from this date. The State respondent shall constitute a proper State Sentence Review Board for such purpose.”
The petitioner had been suffering incarceration for the last 23 years, after being imprisoned for the “cold-blooded” killing of his wife and five daughters in the year 2000. His plea for remission was refused in 2022.
It was argued by the petitioner, that his plea for remission was refused by the respondent-Board in an illegal manner, as the same had not taken into account the NHRC guidelines on early release of prisoners.
It was further argued, that notwithstanding the decision taken, the Board’s composition itself was illegal, since it did not contain a District judge, as had been statutorily mandated.
The Court perused the order for rejection and noted that the rejection of the petitioner’s plea for remission was on an “extremely cryptic note.” It opined:
The remarks against the present petitioner no.1’s name, in the remarks column, read that the petitioner no.1 “cold bloodedly murdered his wife and five (5) daughters – inhuman in nature – chances of future recurrence cannot be ruled out – there is no one to look after him in family – local people raised strong objection – considering nature of the crime and objection by local people, premature release proposal was strongly opposed. Considering the objection by police authorities and apprehension about rehabilitation, premature release was not recommended by the Board”. The State merely acted upon such recommendation and refused the petitioner’s application. However, the Guidelines relating to premature release of convicts/prisoners, as formulated by the National Human Rights Commission, indicated that there are several other considerations which were omitted in the impugned recommendation of the State Sentence Review Board.”
In remanding the matter to a lawfully constituted Board for reconsideration, the Court concluded:
“Since the petitioner had already made an application, which was improperly considered by the State Sentence Review Board, a further application of the petitioner no. 1 is not required. Accordingly, [petition] is disposed of by directing the respondent authorities to place the matter afresh before the State Sentence Review Board, constituted properly in accordance with law and the relevant Guidelines, for a reconsideration of the petitioner no.1’s application for remission, upon taking into account all the relevant yardsticks as stipulated in law and settled by several judgments of the Supreme Court and this court, as well as the relevant Guidelines, also considering the ingredients as spelt out above in the present order.”
Case: Biresh Poddar and another v State of West Bengal and others
Coram: Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharya
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Cal) 200
Click Here To Read/Download Order