The Patna High Court on Friday issued directions for training of judicial officers in the matter of exercise of discretion in the process of sentencing, particularly in Sessions Trial, where they have to choose in between life and death as alternative punishment
"It would be a travesty of justice if the Judges are allowed to exercise discretion in the matter of sentencing in humorous manner. The constitutional mandate of the rule of law is applicable in the decision making process and Courts are no exception.
Sentencing is a delicate process which require due application of judicious mind. The entire criminal jurisprudence of sentencing is based on balancing of competing interest of individual, society and the State," the court remarked.
To this end, the bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Anil Kumar Upadhyay has asked the Director of the Bihar Judicial Academy to formulate a course of training of all the judicial officers vested with the power of Sessions trial. The training will include a course on balancing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances and balancing of individual life and personal liberty with the security of the society.
The order has been passed in a death reference, whereby the convict was sentenced to death under Section 27(3) of the Arms Act.
The high court said that this was the most "disgusting and disturbing part of the sentence" as Section 27(3), which stipulates mandatory death sentence, has been declared ultra vires and void by the Supreme Court in the case of State of Punjab v. Dalbir Singh, (2013) 3 SCC 346.
"After declaration by the Apex Court, section 27(3) of the Arms Act is unconstitutional, and void insisting upon his right to exercise discretion under Section 235(2) of the Cr.P.C. cannot be considered as exercise of judicial discretion rather such exercise of discretion reflects judicial insanity," the bench said.
"The reason for inflicting death sentence coined by the trial Judge noticing the conduct of the convict during the trial and exercising discretion provided to the court under Section 235(2) of the Cr.P.C. contrary to ratio laid down in the case of Dalbir Singh Vs State of Punjab (surpa), reflects total ignorance of basic principles, decorum and propriety as Sessions Court has absolutely no business to sit in appeal against the judgment of the Apex Court."
The court observed that notwithstanding "heralding jurisprudence of rarest of the rare cases", propounded by the Supreme Court in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, (1980) 2 SCC 684, and the insertion of Section 354(3) in CrPC for assigning special reasons for opting death sentence, "the trial courts are still fashioning the concept of awarding death sentence as a rule".
The high court traced the evolution of exercise of discretion in matters of capital sentencing, starting from Jagmohan Singh v. State of UP, (1973) 1 SCC 20, whereby a constitution bench coined the concept of balancing of aggravating and mitigating circumstance in the matter of awarding death sentence, till the recent ruling in Deepak Rai v. State of Bihar, (2013) 10 SCC 421, whereby the Supreme Court endorsed the requirement of assigning special reasons under Section 354 (3) of the CrPC.
"Judicial discretion is always guided by rules of reason. The guideline formulated by the Apex Court is always considered unsurmountable mandate on courts subordinate including Sessions Court in the process of dispensing justice…It does not confer discretion on any judicial officer to decide the case according to the personal standards and parameters," the court observed.
The high court then noted certain irregularities in the conduct of the Sessions trial and remanded the matter to the Sessions Court for fresh adjudication.
"It is true that the Judges exercise discretion in the process of sentencing. The Session Courts are not expected to do only lipservice but apply their judicious mind and follow the basic guidelines laid down by the Apex Court and after balancing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances choose the sentence. The choice of imposing death sentence involves competing interest and security of the individual, society and the State and as such the choice of decision making process is a complicated one," it held.
Earlier this year, the high court had has asked the Director of the Judicial Academy at Patna, to train Judicial Officers in matters of custody and remand applications.
Case Title: State of Bihar v. Onkar Nath Singh
Case No.: Death Ref No. 3/2016
Quorum: Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Anil Kumar Upadhyay
Appearance: Addl. PP Dr. Mayanand Jha (for State); Advocate Vikram Deo Singh (for Respondent); Advocate Alka Verma (Amicus Curiae)
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