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Offender can’t be given two life sentences consecutively: Supreme Court

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New Delhi: An offender cannot be directed to undergo two life sentences consecutively as that would be “anomalous” and “irrational” and will disregard the fact that “humans like all other living beings have but one life to live”, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said.

The apex court, however, said that multiple sentences for imprisonment for life can be awarded for multiple murders or other offences punishable with imprisonment for life but such sentences needs to be superimposed over each other so that any remission or commutation granted in one does not ipso facto result in remission of the sentence awarded to the prisoner for the other.

“We hold 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 superimposed 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 five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said.

It said, “Any direction that requires the offender to undergo imprisonment for life twice over would be anomalous and irrational for it will disregard the fact that humans like all other living beings have but one life to live.”

The verdict came on the appeals filed by Muthuramalingam and others who were tried for several offences, including multiple murders in a single incident and were sentenced for varying sentences, including life sentence for each of the murders which were directed to run consecutively.

The result of sentencing was such that Muthuramalingam and others were to undergo consecutive life sentences ranging between two to eight such sentences depending upon the number of murders committed by them.

The bench also comprising Justices FMI Kalifulla, A K Sikri, S A Bobde and R Banumathi while dealing with the aspect of life sentence and term sentences running consecutively, rejected the contention that if the prisoner is awarded life imprisonment, the term sentence awarded to him must run concurrently.

“We do not, however, think so. 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 CrPC. 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 of CrPC,” the apex court said in its verdict.

It said that the converse, however, may not be true for if the court directs the life sentence to start first it would necessarily imply that term sentence would run concurrently as the prisoner once spends his life in jail, “there is no question of his undergoing any further sentence”.

In cases tried by the sessions court, there is no limitation as to the court’s power to award any punishment sanctioned by law, including the capital punishment, it said.

The bench while relying on an earlier judgement of the apex court, said that provisions of CrPC vested the court with the power to order in its discretion that the sentences awarded shall run concurrently in case of conviction of two or more offences and it was difficult to lay down the straight jacket formula for the exercise of such discretion by courts.

“This Court declared that it was difficult to lay down a straightjacket rule for the exercise of such discretion by the courts. Whether a sentence should run concurrently or consecutively would depend upon the nature of the offence and the facts and circumstances of the case.

“All that could be said was that the discretion has to be exercised along judicial lines and not mechanically. Having said that, the Court observed that if two life sentences are imposed on a convict the court has to direct the same to run concurrently. That is because sentence of imprisonment for life means imprisonment till the normal life of a convict,” it said.

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