Special category of life imprisonment

Innovative approach of Supreme Court is reflected in numerous judgments including most recent one Tattu Lodhi vs state of Madhay Pradesh Civil Appeal No. 292-293 of 2014 in which three-judge Bench of Supreme Court comprising of  Justices J. Chelameswar, Abhay Manohar Sapre and Shiva Kirti Singh has commuted the death sentence of a youth for raping and killing of seven year old girl, to life imprisonment. But with direction not to release him before 25 years’ jail term, three judge bench saying that judicial innovation was required in awarding appropriate punishment between death sentence and life imprisonment in heinous crimes.

In this case, Supreme Court further observed that the offence did not come within the ambit of rarest of the rare case but also held that ordinary life imprisonment would not be sufficient punishment. This is because in common parlance in life imprisonment the accused gets released in 14 years if appropriate government commutes sentence under section 55 of Indian Penal Code and section 433 of Code of Criminal Procedure. Although these provisions are not right of an accused and is only discretion of appropriate government, but the same is ordinarily being followed as procedure.

Under this circumstance, Supreme Court by directing that the convict must spend 25 years behind the jail, has created new category of life imprisonment. This innovative approach of Supreme Court, on the one hand helps the convict getting rid of death penalty in appropriate cases, on the other hand it takes care of genuine concern of the victim including the society by ensuring that life imprisonment shall actually mean imprisonment for whole of natural life or to a lesser extent as indicated by the court in the light of a particular case.

This special category of life imprisonment approach was first time reflected in Supreme Court judgment of Swami Shraddananda vs State of Karnataka  wherein although conviction of accused under section 302 and 201 of IPC was affirmed with a finding that the crime was cold blooded murder, yet Supreme Court was not convinced to confirm the sentence of death even after discussing the diabolical crime in which a wealthy married woman fell in trap, divorced her husband married the accused and suffered death at his hands only for lust of her huge property. The dead body was found buried under the floor of her residential house, obviously to cancel the ghastly crime. Further Supreme Court held in this case that the court has the power to substitute death by imprisonment for life and also to direct that the convict would not be released from prison for the rest of life.

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