Remission of long jail terms: India

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SC limits powers of state governments

The Times of India, Dec 03 2015

Amit Anand Choudhary & Dhananjay Mahapatra

SC limits states' power to remit long jail terms

 The Supreme Court put a question mark on attempts by NGOs and social activists for release of hardened criminals after 14 years in jail, popularly believed to be the span of a lifeterm, and said the states couldn't release a convict if courts awarded a term much in excess of that period while considering the nature of the crime and its perpetrators. A Constitution bench of Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justices F M I Kalifulla, P C Ghose, A M Sapre and U U Lalit ruled by 3-2 majority that taking into account the heinousness of the offence and nature of the crime, if courts awarded a sentence for a period beyond 14 years, states could not remit that sentence. While Justices Dattu, Kalifulla and Ghose gave the above ruling, the other two judges said even when the courts could award jail for a specified period like 25 years, it would not debar the states from exercising their power of remission after the convict served 14 years in jail. The majority judgment, authored by Justice Kalifulla, took a dig at the assiduous attempts by NGOs and social activists in pitching for early release of even hardened criminals. It said the courts have the onerous duty of balancing human rights of convicts with the security of society , which “tday stood “endangered by antisocial elements enjoying political patronage“. “Today we find that criminals are let loose endangering the lives of innocent people in our country . Such hardened criminals are in the good books of several powerful men of ill-gotten wealth and power mongers, for whom they act as paid assassins. Lawlessness is the order of the day . It is the hard reality that the state machinery is not able to protect or guarantee the life and liberty of the common man,“ it said.

Leniency in such cases would lead to chaos and erosion of rule of law, the bench said and upheld the principle laid down by the SC in ther Swamy Shradhanand case, in which it had commuted his death sentence to life but ordered the authorities to keep him in jail till death.

The court said law-abiding citizens were cowering with criminals having a field day. It took a dig at the devils' advocates and said: “Even those who propagate for lessening the gravity of imposition of severe punishment are unmindful of such consequences and are only keen to indulge in the propagation of rescuing the convicts from being meted out appropriate punishment.“

“We are at a loss to understand for what reason or purpose such propagation is carried on and what benefit the society at large is going to derive,“ the court said.

The SC also said the lack of judges considerably delays trial, and the criminals take undue advantage of this.“Disposal of cases by courts is getting delayed mainly be cause of a disproportionate number of judges and lack of proper infrastructure for judiciary ,“ it said.

Citing 2009 statistics, it said that against a minimum of 50 judges per million, as is the set norm, India had just eight, leading to huge pendency and enormous delay .“Such enormous delay in disposal of cases comes handy for criminals who indulge in more of such heinous crimes and in that process, the common man suffers,“ it said. “Keeping the above hard reality in mind, when we examine the issue, it has now come to stay that when in exceptional cases, death penalty is altered as life sentence, that would only mean rest of one's life span,“ the bench said.

“It can be said without any scope of controversy that when by way of a judicial decision, after a detailed analysis, having regard to the proportionality of the crime committed, it is decided that the offender deserves to be punished with the sentence of life imprisonment till the end of his life or for a specific period of 20 years, 30 years or 40 years, such a conclusion should survive without any interruption.

“It should be held that there will be every justification and authority for the court to ensure in the interest of the public and society that such a person should undergo imprisonment for a specified period even beyond 14 years without any scope for remission,“ the bench said.

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