Punishment should acknowledge sanctity of human life: SC

Lack of legislative or judicial guidelines for trial courts to determine punishment for the guilty is the "weakest" part of criminal justice system, the SC has said.

New Delhi: Lack of legislative or judicial guidelines for trial courts to determine punishment to be awarded to the guilty is the "weakest" part of criminal justice system in India, the Supreme Court has said.

"Giving punishment to the wrongdoer is at the heart of the criminal justice delivery, but in our country, it is the weakest part of the administration of criminal justice.

"There are no legislative or judicially laid down guidelines to assist the trial court in meting out just punishment to the accused facing trial before it after he is held guilty of the charges," a bench of justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai said.

The court`s observation came on an appeal by one of the persons convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment by the Kerala High Court in a case of death of 31 persons due to consumption of spurious liquor in October 2000.

Dismissing the appeal, the court held that "punishment should acknowledge the sanctity of human life" and laid down points to be considered by trial courts while awarding sentence, prominent among them being "proportionality and deterrence" of the imprisonment.

The other points included, "consequences of criminal action," "sentence being commensurate with seriousness or gravity of the offence" and "attribution of unintended consequences to offender if they are reasonably foreseeable."

In its 23-page judgement, the bench, referring to the decision of the Kerala High Court in the case, answered the question if the social consequences of a culpable act and its impact on other people can be a relevant consideration for giving a heavier punishment.

The high court had taken into account the death due to consumption of the illicit liquor sold by appellant, Soman, to increase the sentence of two years awarded to him by the trial court to five years.

The apex court while upholding the decision of the high court as "fully justified," however, reduced Soman`s sentence to three years on the ground that punishment of another convict, the supplier, in the 2000 case was also modified.

"It is noted above that a number of appeals against the judgement and order by the high court came before this court at the instance of a number of accused.

"One of them happened to be accused no. 25 who was the supplier of the illicit liquor to the appellant and from him the appellant had received the fatal supply that led to the death and sickness of a number of others.

"Since this court has deemed fit to reduce the sentence given to accused no 25 from a life term to ten years rigorous imprisonment, we feel that it will not be fair not to give the same concession to the appellant who was the last and weakest link in the chain," the bench said.

The court cancelled Soman`s bail and directed that he be taken into custody to serve his remainder sentence.


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