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This article, authored by Nidhi Bajaj, of Guru Nanak Dev University, Punjab will take you through some relevant judgments wherein the Supreme Court has dealt with the question of whether the court can reduce the sentence awarded to the accused if there is a compromise between the victim and accused. 

Introduction

Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides a list of compoundable offences and by whom such offences may be compounded. A bonafide compromise entered into between the accused and victim in case of a compoundable offence has the effect of acquittal of the accused. The Supreme Court of India has ruled that Section 320 is not applicable in respect of compromise in case of a non-compoundable offence; but the fact of such compromise can be taken into account in determining the quantum of sentence. It is also pertinent to note that the Supreme Court and High Court can quash the criminal proceedings in non-compoundable offences by exercising their extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution of India and Section 482 of the Cr.P.C. respectively. However, such power can be exercised only in case of offences that are predominantly private in nature and not in the case of heinous offences.

In its judgement dated 20th September 2021, the Supreme Court has held that a compromise entered into between the accused and complainant/victim in a criminal case is one of the mitigating factors in interfering with the sentence of the accused but it cannot be the solitary basis for a reduction in sentence. 

This article will talk about some important judgments of the Supreme Court dealing with the question—whether the court can reduce the sentence awarded to the accused if there is a compromise between the victim and accused. 

Bhagwan Narayan Gaikwad v. State of Maharashtra (2021)

This is an appeal against the judgment of Bombay High Court wherein the conviction of the accused under Section 326 I.P.C. was confirmed and the victim was given a compensation of Rs. 2 lakhs under Section 357 Cr.P.C.

Facts of the case

The incident happened on 13 December 1993 when the victim was returning to Malegaon from Tembhurni on a bicycle. The accused persons arrived there on a tractor and pelted stone at him. The accused-appellant gave a blow on his right leg with a lethal weapon. The victim was severely injured and there was profuse bleeding. His lower right leg was detached and severed and his right arm was hanging by the skin. He was taken to the hospital and his dying declaration was also recorded. The doctor who examined the victim deposed that his condition was very critical and without immediate medical intervention, the injuries would have resulted in death. As a result of the incident, the victim was crippled for life.

The trial Court convicted 12 accused persons for the offence of causing grievous hurt under Section 326 I.P.C read with Section 149 I.P.C. Each of the accused was sentenced to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 1000 each.

In appeal, the High Court found the accused A3, A4, A10 and A12 including the present appellant(A1) guilty and the rest were acquitted due to lack of evidence against them. The High Court sentenced the appellant to 5 years of rigorous imprisonment and ordered him to pay Rs. 2 lakhs as monetary compensation to the victim.

In the appeal before the Supreme Court, it was submitted on behalf of the appellant that the offence should be compounded in view of the compromise entered into between the appellant and the victim. A compromise affidavit of the victim was placed on record. It was also submitted that the parties have settled the dispute amicably and cordial relations have developed between the families. 

Decision of the Supreme Court

Taking note of the permanent injury caused to the victim, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the appellant was rightly convicted under Section 326 I.P.C. The Court referred to the case of Ram   Pujan and Others(1973) and Murli(2021), wherein the Supreme Court recorded its satisfaction that the compromise entered into by free will and without any coercion could be relied upon while considering the issue of altering the sentence. However, in the present case, the Court was unable to record its satisfaction on the contents of the compromise affidavit as it was obtained overnight after the conviction of the accused-appellant was confirmed by the High Court. The Court observed that the statements made in paragraph 3 of the compromise affidavit are superfluous, stereotyped and nothing can be deduced from it regarding the earlier relations between the parties and what kind of relations have subsequently developed between them. 

The Court held that the compromise between the accused and the victim cannot be the solitary basis for reducing the sentence awarded in case of non-compoundable offences and other aggravating and mitigating factors are also to be taken into consideration. It was held that the act of the appellant is unpardonable as the victim had become permanently disabled and is doing his daily chores with a prosthetic arm and leg.

Murali v. State rep. by the Inspector of Police (2021)

Two connected appeals i.e. Murali v. State rep. by the Inspector of Police and Rajavelu v. State rep. by the Inspector of Police came before the Supreme Court from the judgement of High Court of Madras-

  1. upholding the appellant Murali’s conviction under Sections 324 and 341 of the I.P.C
  2. upholding the appellant Rajavelu’s conviction under Sections 307 and 341 of I.P.C.

Facts of the case

During a volleyball match, Senthil(friend of the victim) had a verbal altercation with accused no. 3 and accused no. 5. The victim came forward to help his friend and opposed both accused. Then, a day later, the appellants, Rajavelu and Murali(accused no.1 and 2) along with accused no. 3,4,5 cornered the victim and assaulted him. Murali hit the victim on the head with the hockey stick and Rajavelu tried to kill him by giving a neck blow with a sharp-edged object. The victim was able to block the blow, but in the process, his left hand and thumb and finger of the right hand got severed. Thereafter, the victim escaped. All the 5 accused were arrested for offences under Sections 147, 148, 341, 352, 323, 324, 307 and 34 of the IPC. The Trial court gave the following judgement—

  1. Murali was held guilty of wrongfully restraining the victim and voluntarily causing hurt with a dangerous weapon. He was sentenced to 3 months rigorous imprisonment under Section 324 I.P.C and one-month rigorous imprisonment under Section 341 I.P.C. Both sentences were to run concurrently.
  2. The Court held that Rajavelu had clear intention to murder the victim and he was awarded 5 years rigorous imprisonment under Section 307 I.PC. and one month of rigorous imprisonment under Section 341 I.P.C.

Both the appeal and criminal revision petition filed by the appellants were dismissed. Thereafter, they approached the Supreme Court against the dismissal of their appeal by the High Court. The appellants sought the compounding of their offences on the ground that they had arrived at a peaceful settlement with the victim. The Court, however, issued limited notice only on the quantum of sentence. 

Decision of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court held that an amicable settlement between the accused and appellant can be a relevant factor for reducing the quantum of sentence. The Court observed that the parties have entered into an amicable settlement on the advice of their elders. They have admitted their faults and sought a genuine apology from the victim, which was benevolently acknowledged and accepted by him. Considering the peculiar circumstances of the case as mentioned below, the Court held that this was a fit case to take a sympathetic view and to reconsider the quantum of sentences awarded—

  1. Parties have mutually resolved their differences. It is clear from the affidavit of the victim that the apology has been voluntarily accepted.
  2. There is no question of settlement being obtained by coercion or inducement.
  3. The appellants are now grown up and mature and present little chance of committing the same crime.
  4. Appellants have no other criminal antecedents or previous enmity. They are now married, have children and are the sole bread earners of their family. 
  5. Both the appellants have served a significant portion of their sentences.

The Court, thus, reduced the sentence awarded to the appellants to the period already undergone by them.

Ram Pujan v. State of U.P.(1973)

This appeal by special leave preferred by the appellants was restricted to the question of sentence only.

Facts of the case

The four appellants, namely Ram Pujan, Raj Kishore, Rajendra and Ram Brikchh armed with swords and lathis, along with three others went to the house of one Ram Samujh. At the instigation of appellant Ram Pujan, the other three appellants assaulted Ram Samujh. When Ram Samujh raised the alarm, one Ram Sewak came there and he too was assaulted by the appellants. Ram Sewak caused injury to one of the appellants (Ram Brikchh) in self-defence.

The trial court gave the following judgement—

  1. The four appellants along with 3 others were convicted under Sections 326 read with 149 and 323 read with 149 I.P.C. and were sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for four years on the former count and three months on the latter count.
  2. Appellants Rajendra and Raj Kishore were also convicted under Section 452 I.P.C. and were sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for two years.
  3. The four appellants were also convicted under Section 148 I.P.C. and were sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one year each.

All the sentences were ordered to run concurrently.

In appeal before the High Court, an application for compromise was filed on the behalf of injured persons, in which it was stated that the injured and the appellants belong to the same family and have affected an amicable settlement of their dispute and wanted to live in peace. After getting the compromise verified, the High Court ordered that no permission to compound the offence could be granted as the offence under Section 326 is non-compoundable. However, the Court reduced the sentence under Section 326 from four years to two years.

The High Court gave the following judgement—

  1. The conviction of the appellants was altered to that under Section 326 read with Section 34 and Section 323 read with Section 34 Indian Penal Code and they were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for two years on the former count and three months on the latter count.
  2. Three others stated to be with the accused were acquitted.
  3. The conviction and sentence awarded to appellants Raj Kishore and Rajendra under Section 452 Indian Penal Code were maintained.

Decision of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court held that the major offence for which the appellants were convicted is non-compoundable but the fact of compromise can be taken into account for determining the quantum of sentence. The Court held that as parties belong to one family and have settled their dispute it is not necessary to keep the appellants in jail. Considering that the appellants were not released on bail during the pendency of the appeal and had already undergone a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for more than four months, the Court reduced their sentence of imprisonment to the period already undergone provided each of them pays a fine of Rs. 1500. 

Other relevant case laws

Ishwar  Singh  v.  State  of  MP (2008)

In this case, a mutual compromise was entered into between the accused and the complainant. The Supreme Court reiterated that the factum of compromise between the parties is a relevant factor to be considered while imposing substantive sentences. Considering that the offence was committed by the appellant when he was 20 years of age and parties resided in the same village and were also relatives, the Court reduced the sentence of imprisonment awarded to the appellant to the period already undergone. 

Shimbhu & Anr v. State Of Haryana(2013)

This is a rape case involving the gang rape of a minor girl. The trial court awarded 10 years of rigorous imprisonment to the appellants, which was confirmed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. In the present appeal before the Supreme Court, the appellants filed an affidavit from the victim. The affidavit stated that the victim was now married and is leading a peaceful life with four children and that she had settled the matter with the accused and did not want to prosecute the matter further. The affidavit also stated that the victim had had no objection to the sentence of appellants being reduced to the period already undergone.

While rejecting the plea of the accused, the Supreme Court in its judgement held that a compromise entered into between a rape victim and the accused not to prosecute the complaint further cannot be a leading factor based on which lesser punishment can be awarded. 

The Court observed that rape is a non-compoundable offence and an offence against society. It is not a matter to be left for the parties to compromise and settle. The Court cannot always be assured that such compromise is genuine and with the free consent of the victim. There is every chance that the victim is being pressurised by the convict or the trauma undergone by her might have compelled her to opt for a compromise. 

The Court held that “In fact, accepting this proposition will put an additional burden on the victim. The accused may use all his influence to pressurise her for a compromise. So, in the interest of justice and to avoid unnecessary pressure/harassment to the victim, it would not be safe in considering the compromise arrived at between the parties in rape cases to be a ground for the Court to exercise the discretionary power under the proviso of Section 376(2) of IPC.” The fact that the rapist has offered to marry the victim, or the social, economic status, religion, race or caste of the accused or victim or the pendency of criminal trial from a long period cannot be a special factor for reducing the sentence prescribed by the statute.

Conclusion

While it is trite that the compromise between the victim and accused can be a relevant factor for reducing the sentence of an accused/convict, it can never be the sole factor to do so. Every case has to be judged according to its own nature, facts and circumstances involved. For instance, in case of heinous offences such as rape, no compromise should ever be permitted by Court or relied upon while considering the question of sentence. The punishment imposed should always be commensurate with the gravity of the offence and crime being an act to the detriment of the whole society should always be dealt with sternly.

References


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