SC tells courts to be reasonable while awarding sentence

SC tells courts to be reasonable while awarding sentence

The Supreme Court has asked the courts to exercise discretion in a reasonable manner in awarding sentence in criminal cases to balance the collective cry of justice and principle of proportionality.

The apex court said using discretion to let off convicts lightly would tantamount to relinquishment of duty.

Notably, this judgment, advising courts against show of undue sympathy to convicts was delivered on August 18, a day before the Uphaar case verdict where convicted industrialists were allowed to walk free on payment of Rs 60 crore fine.

“A Judge has to keep in mind the paramount concept of rule of law and the conscience of the collective and balance it with the principle of proportionality but when the discretion is exercised in a capricious manner, it tantamount to relinquishment of duty and reckless abandonment of responsibility,” a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant said.
Dealing with an abetment to suicide case where convicts were sentenced to a few months of jail terms already served by them during judicial custody, the bench said sometimes the trial court as well as the High Courts acted on individual notion or misplaced sympathy which was not mandated in law.

Talking about the collective conscience, the bench said, “One cannot remain a total alien to the demand of the socio-cultural milieu...society waits with patience to see that justice is done. There is a hope on the part of the society and when the criminal culpability is established and the discretion is irrationally exercised by the court, the said hope is shattered and the patience is wrecked.”

Justice Misra, writing the verdict, asked courts to avoid liberal sentencing policy. He cited oft-quoted saying of American jurist Justice Benjamin N Cardozo “Justice, though due to the accused, is due to the accuser too” to bring home his point.

In the instant case, the court said that the Punjab and Haryana HC had remained “unmindful to the obvious” and reduced the jail term of three convicts to the period of 4 months and 20 days -- that they had already served -- noting that they were first-time offenders.

 The apex court directed taking the convicts into custody and restored the trial court order of three-year imprisonment.

 

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