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Sessions Court Not Empowered To Impose Harsher Variety Of Life Sentences: Kerala High Court Reiterates

Hannah M Varghese
9 Dec 2021 1:33 PM GMT
Sessions Court Not Empowered To Impose Harsher Variety Of Life Sentences: Kerala High Court Reiterates
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The Kerala High Court in a recent judgment held that the Sessions Court is not empowered to specify the period of incarceration or impose a special category sentence while interpreting the dictum in Swamy Sraddhananda v. State of Karnataka [AIR 2008 SC 3040].A Division Bench of Justice Vinod K. Chandran and Justice C. Jayachandran upon noting that the trial court had sentenced the accused...

The Kerala High Court in a recent judgment held that the Sessions Court is not empowered to specify the period of incarceration or impose a special category sentence while interpreting the dictum in Swamy Sraddhananda v. State of Karnataka [AIR 2008 SC 3040].

A Division Bench of Justice Vinod K. Chandran and Justice C. Jayachandran upon noting that the trial court had sentenced the accused to imprisonment for life under Section 302 IPC with a rider that he shall not be released for twenty years, observed:

"We often come across such orders of sentence passed by the trial courts where the actual period of incarceration is specified without the same being subject to remission/commutation by the executive Governments as provided for in the Cr.P.C; following Swamy Sraddhananda (supra). The Sessions Court does not have such a power and the exercise of the same by the Sessions Judge cannot be upheld." 

The trial court found the accused guilty under Ss.450, 394 and 302 IPC. On sentence, considering the fact that the accused was an earlier convict under S.302, imprisonment for life was imposed with the condition that the accused shall not be released for a period of 20 years, relying on Swamy Shraddananda case.

A Full Bench decision in the case of State of Kerala v. Unni [2013 (1) KLT 695 (FB)] has clarified so:

(i) The Sessions Judges have no power to impose the harsher variety of life sentences awarded in Swamy Shraddananda's case.

(ii) The interpretation of Swamy Shraddananda's case that the said power is available to all Sessions Courts is reconsidered as above.

Reliance was placed on the Apex Court decision in Union of India v. V.Sriharan @ Murugan [(2016) 7 SCC 1], where it was held that the dictum in Swamy Shraddananda (supra) insofar as avoiding death sentence by providing a specific period for life imprisonment; thus setting at nought the powers of remission, cannot be applied by a Sessions Judge.

In this decision, it was reiterated that such special category sentence can only be imposed by the High Courts or the Supreme Court.

The Court was adjudicating upon a case where an aged agriculturist was murdered and robbed of his ornaments by his own nephew. in 2011 To the detriment of the accused, his accomplice turned approver.

The incident happened while the accused was staying at the deceased's residence. The prosecution case was that at around 3:30 a.m, the accused went into the room in which the deceased was sleeping and hacked his neck with a chopper. Later on, he took the man's ring and other ornaments.

Upon examining over 29 witnesses and several documents, the trial court found the accused guilty under Sections 450, 394 and 302 IPC and sentenced him to imprisonment for life for 20 years.

A sentence of a fine of Rs one lakh was also imposed under S.302 with default R.I. for one year. Under Ss.450 and 394, a further sentence each of R.I. for 10 years and a fine of Rs.50,000 each was imposed again with the default sentence.

Aggrieved by the conviction, the accused moved the High Court with an appeal. 

The High Court agreed with the conviction and found no reason to interfere with this finding entered into by the trial court. However, the specific sentence of 20 years was set aside and replaced with a sentence of life imprisonment.

As such, the appeal was partly allowed.

The appellants were represented by Senior Advocate P. Vijayabhanu, Advocates P.M. Rafiq, M. Revikrishnan and Pooja Pankaj. Senior Public Prosecutor Alex M Thombra appeared for the respondent.

Case Title: Tony v. State of Kerala

Click Here To Read/Download The Order

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