In this article, Anubhav Pandey discusses the duration of life imprisonment in India.
Duration of life imprisonment in India
- What is the duration of life imprisonment in India? For how long is the person put behind bars who is accused of a crime for which life imprisonment is the punishment? There is a misconception that a prisoner serving life sentence has an indefeasible right to be released upon completion of either 14 years or 20 years’ imprisonment.
- A convict undergoing life imprisonment is expected to remain in custody until the end of his life, subject to any remission granted by the appropriate Government under section 432 of the Code, which in turn is subject to the procedural checks mentioned in the said provision and to further substantive check in section 433-A of the Code.
Life imprisonment in India
- Life imprisonment means the entirety of the life unless it is curtailed by remissions validly granted under the Code of Criminal Procedure by the Appropriate Government or under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution by the Executive Head viz., the President or the Governor of the State, respectively.
But, the executive has the power to commute, remit or pardon the sentence according to the power vested in them by statute namely Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Constitution.
- Life imprisonment where death has been commuted to life sentence has to be served for the entire life of the convicted but subject to remission; a minimum of 14 years must be spent in imprisonment. Various precedents have been set regarding this substantial point of law. Life imprisonment when death sentence has been commuted to sentence of life, in its literal meaning is equivalent to imprisonment till life ends but under various statutes its literal meaning is defeated.
- Life imprisonment when death sentence has been commuted to sentence of life, in its literal meaning is equivalent to imprisonment till life ends but under various statutes its literal meaning is defeated.
Judicial precedent on duration of life imprisonment
- In Union of India v Shriharan, the apex court held that, “For instance, when we refer to the punishment provided for the offence under section 376A or 376D while prescribing life imprisonment as the maximum punishment that can be imposed, it is specifically stipulated that such life imprisonment would mean for the remainder of that period “. T
- he Hon’ble SC in Gopal Vinayak Godse v. The State of Maharashtra held that “A sentence of transportation for life or imprisonment for life must prima facie be treated as transportation or imprisonment for the whole of the remaining period of the convicted person’s natural life”.
- The constitution bench of the apex court in Maru Ram v. Union of India held that “We follow Godse’s case to hold that imprisonment for life lasts until the last breath, and whatever the length of remissions earned, the prisoner can claim release only if the remaining sentence is remitted by Government.”
- It is quite apparent the affirmed legal positions that the life imprisonment only means the entirety of the life unless it is curtailed by remissions validly granted under the Code of Criminal Procedure by the Appropriate Government or under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution by the Executive Head viz., the President or the Governor of the State, respectively.
- In the IPC, the provisions for our purpose are, sections 17, 45, 46, 53, 54, 55, 55A. When we come to the provisions CrPc, we may refer to sections 2(y), 432, 433, 433A, 434 and 435.
- Imprisonment for life in terms of section 53 read with section 45 of the Penal Code only means imprisonment for rest of the life of the prisoner subject, however, to the right to claim remission, etc. as provided under Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution to be exercisable by the President and the Governor of the State and also as provided under section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
4. Murali Manohar Mishra v. State of Karnataka, the apex court dealt with the question of special category of sentence to be considered in substitute of Death Penalty by imposing a life sentence i.e., the entirety of the life or a term of imprisonment which can be less than full life term but more than 14 years and put that category beyond application of remission which has been propounded.
- On the plain reading of sections 433(a) with 433A of Code of Criminal Procedure, it is clear that the appropriate government may, without the consent of the person sentenced, commute a sentence of death, for any other punishment provided by the IPC.
- But where a sentence of death imposed on a person has been commuted under S 433 into one of imprisonment for life, such person shall not be released from prison unless he had served at least fourteen years of imprisonment.
5. Also, as rightly observed by the Hon’ble Court in Sangeet v. State of Haryana, there is a misconception that a prisoner serving life sentence has an indefeasible right to release on completion of either 14 years or 20 years’ imprisonment. A convict undergoing life imprisonment is expected to remain in custody until the end of his life, subject to any remission granted by the appropriate Government under section 432 of the Code, which in turn is subject to the procedural checks mentioned in the said provision and to further substantive check in section 433-A of the Code.”
6. In State of M.P. v. Ratan Singh, Supreme Court held that a sentence of imprisonment for life does not automatically expire at the end of 20 years, including the remissions. “A sentence of imprisonment for life means a sentence for the entire life of the prisoner unless the Appropriate Government chooses to exercise its discretion to remit either the whole or a part of the sentence under section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure”.
Power of President to grant pardon or commute the sentence
- In common parlance, to pardon means to forgive a person for his offense. The term ‘pardon’ has been defined as, an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the law, which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed upon, from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.
- It affects both the punishment prescribed for the offence and the guilt of the offender. In other words, grant of pardon wipes off the guilt of accused and brings him to the original position of innocence as if he had never committed the offence for which he was charged. Under Indian law, the President of India and the Governors of States have been given the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence.
The law governing grant of pardon is contained in Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution.
- Pardon may substantially help in saving an innocent person from being punished due to the miscarriage of justice or in cases of doubtful conviction.
- The hope of being pardoned itself serves as an incentive for the convict to behave himself in the prison institution and thus, helps considerably in solving the issue of prison discipline.
- It is always preferable to grant liberty to a guilty offender rather than sentencing an innocent person. The object of pardoning power is to correct possible judicial errors, for no human system of judicial administration can be free from imperfections.
Power of the government to reduce the duration of life imprisonment in India
- When any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offense, the appropriate Government may, at any time, without conditions or upon any conditions which the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced.
- Whenever an application is made to the appropriate Government for the suspension or remission of a sentence, the appropriate Government may require the presiding Judge of the Court before or by which the conviction was had or confirmed, to state his opinion as to whether the application should be granted or refused, together with his reasons for such opinion and also to forward with the statement of such opinion a certified copy of the record of the trial or of such record thereof as exists.
- If any condition on which a sentence has been suspended or remitted is, in the opinion of the appropriate Government, not fulfilled, the appropriate Government may cancel the suspension or remission, and thereupon the person in whose favour the sentence has been suspended or remitted, may, if at large, be arrested by any police officer, without warrant and remanded to undergo the unexpired portion of the sentence.
- The condition on which a sentence is suspended or remitted under Section 432 may be one to be fulfilled by the person in whose favour the sentence is suspended or remitted or one independent of his will.