Criminal Justice System
This article is written by Aniket Chaudhary, 3rd Year, BA.LLB(hons) student of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University. The article covers Inconsistencies in the application of remissions in Criminal Justice System.
In August 2020, a gruesome case of rape was reported in Delhi, what was shocking and at the same time revolting was the fact that the accused had been sentenced for life imprisonment for commiting the offence of murder in 2006 but was released from the Jail in 2014 on account of “good behaviour”. This shows that the accused was to serve life imprisonment but was released in just 8-9 years which is way earlier than the prescribed term of punishment.
The accused because of premature release went on again to commit a crime and because of this fault, the life of a young girl was hampered and the society at large was put to danger. This incident raises a serious issue which was warned by the Supreme Court in Swamy Shraddananda (II) v. State of Karnataka[i]; the issue being the inconsistency in the application of remissions by the prison authorities which entitle premature release to life convicts and the effect this will cause on the society.
Limitation on the power of Remissions-
Remissions are of two types, one type of remission is that which is earned by a prisoner according to the Prison rules or other relevant rules based on his/her good behavior or other condition mentioned. The other type is one that is granted by the Government in exercise of its power under section 432 of CrPC, 1973. Remission in simple words will mean the rewards earned on account of good behaviour or other conditions which lessen the quantum of sentence imposed on a prisoner.
According to Section 57 of the Indian penal Code, 1860 if the accused is sentenced for the punishment of life imprisonment then for calculating the fraction of term it is to be considered equivalent to 20 years. This was done for the fixing of the term of life imprisonment which had been in dispute. Section 432 of CrPC, 1973 provides for “power to suspend or remit sentences” and similarly section 433 CrPC provides for “power to commute sentence”.
However, Section 433A puts a statutory limit on this power by stating that “where a sentence of imprisonment for life is imposed on conviction of a person for an offence for which death is one of the punishments provided by law, such person shall not be released from prison unless he had served at least fourteen years of imprisonment.” Therefore actual imprisonment of minimum 14 years is to be served and this is the requirement for release of convict sentenced to life imprisonment.
Thus, in the above reported incident of Delhi where the accused had been released in just 8-9 years, it can be said that these provisions were not followed in the spirit and have been violated and that is the reason of early release of the accused, than the prescribed sentence.
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Issue of early release of a convict than the given sentence, due to inconsistencies in the application of remissions, has been observed by the Supreme Court in multiple cases. The first being the case of Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P.[ii] where the Court had observed that, “In the context of our criminal law which punishes murder, one cannot ignore the fact that life imprisonment works out in most cases to a dozen years of punishment, and it may be seriously questioned whether that sole alternative will be an adequate substitute for the death penalty.”
On a Similar note, it was held and observed by the Supreme Court in Dalbir Singh and others v. State of Punjab[iii], that, “…life imprisonment which strictly means imprisonment for the whole of the men’s life but in practice amounts to incarceration for a period between 10 and 14 years may, at the option of the convicting court, be subject to the condition that the sentence of imprisonment shall last as long as life lasts, where there are exceptional indications of murderous recidivism and the community cannot run the risk of the convict being at large.
This takes care of judicial apprehensions that unless physically liquidated the culprit may at some remote time repeat murder.” By this decision of the Court it is evident that the Court was not only aware of the issue of pre mature release of life convict but it also warned against this practise because of the fear that the convict might indulge in criminal activities after its release at some distant time.
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By insertion of Section 433A in CrPC, a statutory limit was put on the powers of remission and commutation exercised by respective Government under section 432 and section 433 of CrPC. What this meant was that a convict who earlier had serve life imprisonment which amounted to a dozen years of imprisonment in practice, now had to serve at least 14 years of actual imprisonment. This was the view expressed by the Court in case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab[iv]. However, still after the statutory limit put by section 433A on power of remissions, there have been instances where the life imprisonment was reduced to less than 14 years in practise.
In Swamy Shraddananda (II) v. State of Karnataka[v], the Court had taken note of the Karnataka Prison Rules and Bihar Prisons Rules which allowed for deemed conversion of life imprisonment into a fixed term of 20 years. It was stated in the Note that, “Experience shows that in respect of life convicts an assumption can be made that the total sentence is 20 years and if the convict earns all categories of remissions in the normal course it may come to 6 years which is less than one third of 20 years.
This is also in consonance with Order 214(C) of the Prisons Manual which for the purposes of the rules deems a sentence of imprisonment for life to be a sentence of imprisonment for twenty years.” By referring to the Note, the Court had observed a similar kind of situation in the State of Bihar while dealing with the issue of premature release of a life convict. The Court stated that this practice was without any legal basis and it was done without evaluating the psychological state of convicts.
Thus, the Court was cautious and warned against the irrational manner in which remissions were granted to convicts who were to spend life imprisonment and this was done without considering its effect on the society as a life convict may after release indulge in criminal activities and grow as a threat to citizens.
It was also observed that the punishment of life imprisonment which means for the rest of the remaining life of the convict just turn out to be less than 12 years in practise which is less than the given punishment of life imprisonment and also against the statutory limit put by section 433A. It was observed by the Court, “It is thus to be seen that life convicts are granted remission and released from prison on completing the fourteen year term without any sound legal basis.
One can safely assume that the position would be no better in the other States. This Court can also take judicial notice of the fact that remission is allowed to life convicts in the most mechanical manner without any sociological or psychiatric appraisal of the convict and without any proper assessment as to the effect of the early release of a particular convict on the society. The grant of remission is the rule and remission is denied, one may say, in the rarest of the rare cases.”
Thus, by reading of the above cases, it can be said that the Supreme Court was aware of the premature release of the life convicts than the prescribed sentences due to inconsistencies in the application of remissions. Not only the Court had acknowledged this issue but the Court had also warned against the premature release without considering the effect it can cause in the society.
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It was in Union of India v. V. Sriharan alias Murugan and others[vi], where the Court discussed at length the problem of the nature of crimes in the country where the heartless, cruel, assassins used by strongmen and people at high places, due to early release from prison committed repeated crimes and due to lack of judicial infrastructure and delay in hearing of cases, the criminals perpetrated crimes in the society and created havoc for common man.
Thus the Court in this case, tried to look beyond the reformation of the criminals and more towards the benefit of victims, thus paving way for a new form punishment of life imprisonment beyond the scope of remission. Thus, the effect of premature release of life convicts on the society was raised and considered by the Court in making in this new punishment. So, it can be said that the Court as of lately has been acknowledging this issue and trying to find an alternative.
The Way Ahead-
Early release of life convicts due to inconsistencies in the application of remissions is a loophole which is created by the Administration. Therefore in Laxman Naskar v. State of West Bengal[vii], the guidelines to be taken into consideration by Prison authorities for giving premature release to life convicts were listed.
These included; “i) Whether the offence is an individual act of crime without affecting the society at large, ii) whether there is any chance of future recurrence of committing the crime, iii) whether the convict has lost the potential for committing crime, iv) whether there is any fruitful purpose of confining the convict any more, v) what is the socio-economic condition of the convict’s family”. These points should be taken into consideration for considering the case of a life convict seeking release.
Thus the government bodies i.e. the Advisory Board, DIG prisons etc., who are tasked with this act; need to be more careful and cautious while inquiring about the case of a convict’s release. The Proper assessment, the sociological and psychological evaluation has to be done in order to better know about the mental state of a convict before considering whether he could be released or not and the effect it will have on the society is a thing which is also to be kept in mind. Since the common man lives in harmony and peace in the society and his trust resides with the government to keep him safe, the trust ought not to be led down.
[i] (2008) 13 SCC 767
[ii] (1973) 1 SCC 20
[iii] (1979) 3 SCC 745
[iv] (1980) 2 SCC 684
[v] (2008) 13 SCC 767
[vi] (2016) 7 SCC 1
[vii] (2000) 7 SCC 626