LE Correspondent

New Delhi, April 9, 2022: While deprecating the practice of disposing of criminal appeals by adopting shortcuts, the Supreme Court has observed that sentence has to be imposed proportionately looking at the nature and gravity of the offence committed by the accused.

The Division Bench of Justice M.R. Shah  and Justice B.V. Nagarathna dealt with the appeals instituted by the State in order to assail the impugned order and judgment of the Rajasthan High Court dated May 6, 2015 whereby the sentence of the first respondent- accused was reduced from three years rigorous imprisonment to the period already undergone by him in confinement (44 days) and as far as the accused – Mohan Lal was concerned, the High Court did not interfere with the order of the trial Court convicting him under Section 324 IPC, and releasing him on probation under Section 360 Cr.P.C.

Factual background of the case was that the respondents were tried by the Trial Court under Sections 147, 148, 149, 477 and 323 of the Indian Penal Code. The first Respondent was charged under Section 307 of the IPC for causing grave injury on the  skull/middle part of the head of a person named Phool Chand. It was proved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution that the first respondent caused grave injuries  to the victim, which were sufficient enough to cause death in the ordinary course of nature. 

The Trial Court convicted the first respondent to undergo three years of rigorous imprisonment under Section 307 of IPC. As far as the case of the other accused was concerned, the Court convicted him, however he received the benefit of probation.  

Aggrieved by the judgment of the Trial Court, the respondents-Banwari Lal and Mohan Lal approached the High Court through appeals. The prayer on behalf of the first respondent was to reduce the period of sentence on the ground that the occurrence of the crime took place March 31, 1989. Having said that, the respondent prayed that he was facing trial for the last 26 years and at the time of occurrence of the offence they were young and now they  are old/aged persons. It was also submitted that first respondent shall also be granted the benefit of probation as is the case of the other accused, Mohan Lal . The High Court partly allowed the appeal.

The present appeals before the Apex Court were instituted by the State on being aggrieved by the order and the judgment passed by the High Court along with the application to condone the delay of 1880 days.

The Counsel for the State strongly opposed  the remission of sentence granted by the High Court by submitting that the High Court did not consider the mitigating and aggravating factors which were relevant for the purpose of imposing an appropriate punishment/sentence. It was further submitted that the High Court neglected the nature of the offence and the grave injuries sustained by the victim. 

The counsel for the respondents on the other hand  countered  the same by stating that the trial almost continued up to 26 years and at the time of the occurrence, the respondents were young and now they are old/ aged persons. It was also submitted that the respondents had not indulged in any criminal activity since then and the delay of 1880 days couldnot be condoned. It was further submitted that in the matter pertaining to accused Mohan Lal, the State did not institute any appeal before the High Court against the judgment of the High Court and therefore, the State could now not seek an opportunity to assail the same. 

The Bench referred to the judgment of this Court in Soman v. The State of Kerala wherein it was observed that Courts ought to base sentencing decisions on various different rationales — most prominent amongst which would be proportionality and deterrence. One of the factors relevant for judging seriousness of the offence is the consequences resulting from it.

Another judgment referred to was of Alister Anthony Pareira v. State of Maharashtra, wherein it was held that the twin objective of the sentencing policy is deterrence and correction. In another decision,  of Satish Kumar Jayanti Lal Dabgar, this Court observed that the purpose and justification behind sentencing is not only retribution, incapacitation, rehabilitation but deterrence as well.

In another decision of case State of Rajasthan v. Mohan Lal, this Court held that the courts will have to take into account certain principles while exercising their discretion in sentencing, such as proportionality, deterrence and rehabilitation. In a proportionality analysis, it is necessary to assess the seriousness of an offence in order to determine the commensurate punishment for the offender. The seriousness of an offence depends, apart from other things, also upon its harmfulness.

Thus by applying the law laid down by this Court on principles of sentencing , the Apex Court observed that the approach of the High Court was “cavalier” . The grounds such as delay in filing of appeal by the State against the impugned order and the fact that the respondents had settled back in their lives played no relevance in not condoning the delay of 1880 days. 

It was further submitted that the injury caused to the victim was grave in nature and on the main party of the body. It came out to be so grave that it was sufficient enough to cause death to the victim. The Court stated usually in offence of such gravity, the sentence is not less than 10 years or for life under Section 307 of the IPC. Thus, in the present case the accused could have undergone life imprisonment or at least up to 10 years, however the Trial Court was already lenient and pronounced the sentence of three years. 

Therefore, in view of the above observation and findings of this Court on the above cited cases, the Court condemned the High Court for their “casual” approach. It was stated that the Apex Court deals with a plethora of such cases wherein the High Court does not consider relevant  facts while deciding the sentence and follow shortcuts. 

The Bench said, “In cases, like the present one, the accused did not press any challenge to the conviction and prayed for reduction in sentence and the same is considered and an inadequate and inappropriate sentence has been imposed without assigning any further reasons and without adverting to the relevant factors which are required to be considered while imposing appropriate punishment/sentence. We deprecate such practice of disposing of criminal appeals by adopting shortcuts.”

Thus, the appeal was partly allowed and the impugned order and judgment of the High Court was set aside. As far as the case of the accused Mohan Lal was concerned, the Court was of the view that if the State  wanted to challenge the benefit of probation granted by the Trial Court, the same should have been done before the High Court. Thus, the order of the Trial Court was restored and the appeal of the State against the accused-Mohan Lal was dismissed. 

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