Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Deciding an interesting question of law as to whether consecutive life sentences can be awarded to a convict on being found guilty of a series of murders for which he has been tried in a single trial, the 5 judge bench of T.S. Thakur, CJ, Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, A.K. Sikri, S.A. Bobde and R. Banumathi, JJ answered the question in negative and held that while multiple sentences for imprisonment for life can be awarded for multiple murders or other offences punishable with imprisonment for life, the life sentences so awarded cannot be directed to run consecutively. Such sentences would, however, be super imposed over each other so that any remission or commutation granted by the competent authority in one does not ipso facto result in remission of the sentence awarded to the prisoner for the other.

The matter in which the aforementioned question arose was that the appellants were tried for several offences including an offence punishable under Section 302 IPC for several murders allegedly committed by them in a single incident. They were found guilty and sentenced to suffer varying sentences, including a sentence of imprisonment for life for each one of the murders committed by them and the sentence of imprisonment for life for each one of the murders was directed to run consecutively.

The Court, interpreting the provision under Section 31 of CrPC which deals with sentences in cases of conviction of several offences at one trial, held that the power of the Court to direct the order in which sentences will run is unquestionable in view of the language employed in Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. The Court can, therefore, legitimately direct that the prisoner shall first undergo the term sentence before the commencement of his life sentence. Such a direction shall be perfectly legitimate and in tune with Section 31. The converse however may not be true for if the Court directs the life sentence to start first it would necessarily imply that the term sentence would run concurrently. That is because once the prisoner spends his life in jail, there is no question of his undergoing any further sentence. [Muthuramalingam v. State, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 713, decided on 19.07.2016]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court– Expressing concern over the sordid state of affairs in the trial Courts in the State, the division bench of M.Jaichandren and S.Nagamuthu JJ., observed that when an unreasonable request for adjournment or unreasonable request to recall any witness is made and in the event, the trial Court turns down such request, the parties are advised to approach the High Court either under Section 482 CrPC or by way of revision, challenging the said order of the trial Court. The present case illustrates as to how the criminal justice delivery system could be taken for a ride by the unscrupulous men who are parties to the system.

In the instant case, the Court held that the Judge who had conducted the trial had demonstrably exhibited total indifference to his constitutional obligation to do speedy and real justice to the parties. He had allowed the witnesses to be dragged to Court and being harassed for many days. He did not record the reasons as to why the witnesses were again and again put in the witness box. He did not even record as to whether these witnesses were recalled at the instance of the accused or the prosecution. The learned Judge had only exhibited his ignorance in allowing the prosecutor to recall P.W.1 after several months to again examine the witness in chief examination when no new fact was in the hands of the learned public prosecutor to be introduced.

The Court further observed that fair investigation, fair and speedy trial and just verdict are the concomitants of right to life. Such right is not exclusive for the accused. The victim, their family members and the society at large are also entitled to have a fair trial and just verdict. The trial Court should ensure that both the accused and the witnesses, including the victims get a fair deal during trial and ultimately justice triumphs. The Court, after perusal of the facts and relevant case laws held that in order to maintain independence of the judiciary, the Judges should not allow any interference in their independent judicial thinking to do justice which is their Constitutional obligation. [Manikandan v. State, 2016 SCC OnLine Mad 2321, decided on 22.04.2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Considering the dire need for prison reform, the bench of Madan B. Lokur and R.K. Agrawal, JJ said that prisoners, like all other human beings, deserve to be treated with dignity. Taking note of the fact that the prisons suffer from a wide range of problems like overcrowding, delay in trial, custodial deaths, inadequacy of staff, Insubstantial food and inadequate clothing, etc, the Court said that despite of the various discussions and decisions by this Court regarding this issue over the last 35 years, we are still struggling with resolution of this problem.

Hence, the Court issued the below mentioned directions in order to tackle the situation:

  1. The Under Trial Review Committee, which has been set up in various States, should meet quarterly and the first meeting should be held before 31st March, 2016.
  2. Aspects pertaining to effective implementation of Section 436 of the Cr.P.C. and Section 436A of the Cr.P.C. and those who cannot furnish bail bonds due to their poverty are not subjected to incarceration only for that reason should be considered.
  3. Adequate number of competent lawyers should be empanelled to assist undertrial prisoners and convicts, particularly the poor and indigent.
  4. Issue of the release of undertrial prisoners in compoundable offences, should be looked into, the effort being to effectively explore the possibility of compounding offences rather than requiring a trial to take place.
  5. Proper and effective utilization of available funds so that the living conditions of the prisoners is commensurate with human dignity.
  6. Ministry of Home Affairs will ensure that the Management Information System is in place at the earliest in all the Central and District Jails as well as jails for women so that there is better and effective management of the prison and prisoners.
  7. Annual review of the implementation of the Model Prison Manual 2016 should be conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Court also issued a notice to the Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India in order to ensure that a manual similar to the Model Prison Manual is prepared in respect of juveniles who are in custody either in Observation Homes or Special Homes or Places of Safety in terms of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. [Re – Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 121 decided on 05.02.2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: While deciding the question that whether the Constitutional Courts can order de-novo investigation even after the commencement of the trial and the examination of some witnesses, the Division Bench of Dipak Misra and P.C. Pant, JJ., observed that the power of the Constitutional Courts to order de-novo investigation exists and the same cannot be hindered by the commencement of trial and examination of few witnesses, as such power has been vested in the Constitutional Courts to ensure free and fair investigation. Using subtle words, Dipak Misra, J. stated that, “not for nothing it has been said that sun rises and sets, light and darkness, winter and spring come and go, even the course of time is playful, but truth remains and sparkles when justice is done.”

The present case came up questioning the decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which refused the plea of the appellant seeking a CBI investigation over the death of his wife. The counsel representing the CBI, P.K. Dey argued before the Court that the case of the appellant does not fall under the guidelines laid down in State of West Bengal v. Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, West Bengal,  (2010) 3 SCC 571.

On perusal of the facts, the Court observed that for a fair trial it is necessary that a fair investigation is conducted. The Court further observed that the power to direct re- investigation should be sparingly given and such decision should be based on the facts of the case. In order to instill the faith and fear of law in the minds of the victim and the accused, it becomes necessary for the Courts to “uphold the truth, which means absence of fraud and deceit in a criminal investigation.” [Dharam Pal v. State of Haryana, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 91 decided on 29-01-2016]