SC Agrees to Hear Plea That Sought to Know Whether Life Sentence Would Mean Entire Life

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a petition which sought to know whether the specification of ‘life sentence’ would mean the entire life or can it be commuted or remitted by powers under section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

Section 432 of the CrPC deals with power to suspend or remit sentences.

A bench of justices Hrishikesh Roy and Prashant Kumar Mishra issued notice to the Delhi government seeking its response on the plea filed by Chandrakant Jha, who is serving life term after being convicted in three murder cases in which headless torsos were found outside Tihar jail here in 2006 and 2007.

In his plea filed through advocate Rishi Malhotra, Jha said he has been convicted for the offences under sections 302 (murder) and 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence) of the Indian Penal Code.

He said the Delhi High Court had earlier commuted the death sentence awarded to him by a trial court and converted it to life imprisonment but with a rider that sentence of life imprisonment would mean full term of life of the petitioner.

“It is pertinent to mention here that section 302 of IPC expressly mentioned two punishments i.e., one is punishment of death and second is imprisonment for life. It does not mention any other punishment apart from these two,” the plea said.

“It is submitted that legislature has not intended consciously to amend the section 302 of IPC and add the till natural life instead of only life. Therefore, the law does not contemplate that life means natural only,” it said.

The plea said if imprisonment for life is construed till natural life, then it violates the fundamental right of a convicted person.

It said imposition of imprisonment till natural life for the offence of murder was unconstitutional for the reason that it completely snatches the chance of reformation of an individual and violates remission policy and rules prescribed by state governments.

“It is also pertinent to mention here that remission of an individual is a statutory right under section 432 of CrPC. Sentencing is a judicial exercise of power,” the plea said.

It said the sentence awarded by the high court to the petitioner was completely not justifiable.

“The main issue raised before this court is as to whether the specification of ‘life sentence’ would mean till the whole life or can it be commuted or remitted by way of remission powers under section 432 of CrPC,” the plea said.

The bench, while issuing notice on the plea, tagged it with a separate petition raising similar issue.

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In January 2016, the high court had commuted the death sentence awarded to Jha to imprisonment for “remainder of his natural life” without remission, saying he must be “emphatically and adequately punished” for his “heinous” crime.

In 2013, Jha was sentenced to life term till death in a case related to the killing of a person whose headless body was dumped near Tihar Jail in 2007.

He was sentenced to death in the second case of murder by the trial court, which said his offence fell under the “rarest of rare case” as the brutality committed by him showed he “cannot be reformed”.

The trial court had awarded death sentence to Jha for killing a 19-year-old man and dumping his headless body also near Tihar jail in 2007.

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