Supreme Court Cases

LIFE IMPRISONMENT

“Nature of sentence of life imprisonment is undefined”

“Imprisonment for life is equivalent to rigorous imprisonment for life”

Supreme Court in Md. Alfaz Ali v. State of Assam, Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No.6220 of 2018

It was a matter started in 2006 wherein a complaint was filed by Md. Abdul Jalil. It was alleged by Md. Abdul Jalil that his daughter Marzina Begum was killed by her husband, the petitioner. The Petitioner killed his wife on the suspicion of her infidelity, prosecution. Later he was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for life.

“Question of propriety of specifying rigorous imprisonment while imposing life sentence”

This Court in Naib Singh’s case; The petitioner was sentenced to death under section 302 of I.P.C. Later, on a mercy petition, the sentence was commuted to ‘imprisonment for life’. He had undergone the total imprisonment for 22 years, 2 months and 17 days. Petitioner Naib Singh challenged his continued detention in jail and is seeking an order in the nature of habeas corpus. Petitioner claimed that he served more than the maximum sentence of imprisonment prescribed under law and should be released.

It was held,

“The position in law as regards the nature of punishment involved in a sentence of imprisonment for life is well settled and the sentence of imprisonment for life has to be equated to rigorous imprisonment for life.”

…………. transportation for a term, has been equated to rigorous imprisonment for the same term, by necessary implication, the sentence of ‘transportation for life’, now substituted by ‘imprisonment for life’, which is awardable for more serious, or more grave or more heinous crimes must mean rigorous imprisonment for life.

………….. judicially noticed in Pandit Kishori Lal’s case. Therefore, on Counsel’s own argument, the sentences of ‘transportation for life’ and ‘imprisonment for life’ being similar in nature, the sentence of ‘imprisonment for life’ must mean ‘rigorous imprisonment for life’.

………….. first place, a distinction between ‘imprisonment for life’ and “imprisonment for a term” has been maintained in the Penal Code in several of its provisions. Secondly, by its very terms Section 60 is applicable to a case where “an offender is punishable with imprisonment which may be of either description” and it is only in such case that it is competent for the court to direct that “such imprisonment shall be either wholly rigorous or wholly simple or that any part of such imprisonment shall be rigorous and the rest simple.” And it is clear that whenever an offender is punishable with “imprisonment for life” he is not punishable with “imprisonment which may be of either description”, in other words Section 60 would be in applicable.

The law laid down by this Court in Naib Singh’s was followed by this Court in three judgments Dilpesh Balchandra Panchal v. State of Gujarat, Sat Pal alias Sadhu v. State of Haryana, (1992) 4 SCC 172 and Mohd. Munna v. Union of India, (2005) 7 SCC 417.

This Court in Sat Pal’s case; The reasoning and conclusions given in Naib Singh’s case are correct and there is no justification.

…………. that in view of Section 53-A, Indian Penal Code, 1860, inserted by the Amending Act of 1955, the sentence of imprisonment for life imposed on or after January 1, 1956 is executable in jails, that the nature of punishment required to be suffered under a sentence of `imprisonment for life’ is rigorous imprisonment; that since Section 53 A(2), transportation for a term has been equated to rigorous imprisonment for the same term, by necessary implication the sentence of `transportation for life’, now substituted by `imprisonment for life’ by Section 53-A(1) which is awardable for more serious, or more grave or more heinous crimes must mean rigorous imprisonment for life, that is to say, it cannot be anything  but rigorous; and that it is not  necessary that, while passing the sentence of imprisonment for life a criminal court should clarify the exact nature of punishment intended to be inflicted on the accused.

The Supreme Court has reiterated that a sentence of imprisonment for life means rigorous imprisonment for life.

Note: Initially, the ‘life imprisonment’ was introduced through an amendment in 1955. Earlier, this penal clause of ‘life imprisonment’ was not in existence when the Indian Penal Code was formulated. Section 53 of IPC was amended in 1955 and it replaced “Transportation for life” with “Imprisonment for life”.

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