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Supreme Court clarifies April 19 verdict, commuting death sentence of rapist to life imprisonment

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The Supreme Court has given explanation regarding it’s judgement of April 19, 2022, in which death sentence awarded to a man convicted for raping and murdering a four-year-old girl was commuted to life imprisonment for 20 years.

The Apex Court noted that in the said judgement, the Court had commuted the death sentence imposed for the offence of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code as life imprisonment.

It also modified the sentence of life imprisonment for the remainder of life, imposed for the offence under Section 376A IPC(punishment for causing death of rape victim), as life imprisonment for 20 years.

The convict, who was also sentenced for offences punishable under Section 376(2)(i) (rape of a women aged below 16 years), Section 376(2)(m) (endangering life of woman while committing rape) of IPC, Section 5(i) (penetrative sexual assault causing grave injury to child) and Section 5(m) (penetrative sexual assault of girl aged below 12 years) of the POCSO Act, had filled an application in the Supreme Court, seeking clarification over these sentences, since these offences also carried the sentence of life imprisonment for the remainder of life.

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The convict sought clarification on whether the sentences imposed for Sections 376(2)(i), 376(2)(m) of IPC and 5(i) and 5(m) of POCSO, were also reduced as life imprisonment for a term of 20 years.

Treating the application as a review petition, the top court of the country noted that the Courts below had awarded punishment of life imprisonment for the remainder part of his natural life.

Amicus Curiae in the case, B.H. Marlapalle submitted that considering the amendment to the POCSO Act whereby the qualification of “it shall be for the remainder part of his natural life” was added to the punishment of life imprisonment in Section 6 was brought into force after the offence was committed by the accused, the punishment as it stood after amendment could not have been awarded to the accused.

The Senior Advocate urged the Court to consider the case of the appellant on same lines with respect to offences punishable under Section 376 (2) (i) and 376 (2) (m) of the IPC, as for the offence under Section 376A of the IPC, in which he was granted the benefit of reduction of sentence to term sentence of 20 years instead of imprisonment for the remainder of his natural life.

Representing the State, Advocate P.V. Yogeshwaran did not object to the submissions made by the Amicus.

The Bench noted that it had made a conscious decision to impose a lesser sentence under Section 376A IPC in order to attempt to balance the scales of retributive and restorative justice.

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The Apex Court accepted the submission made by the Amicus, who said that if the sentence of life imprisonment imposed by the Sessions Court and confirmed by the High Court was also confirmed by this Court for the offence under Sections 376(2)(i) and 376(2)(m), IPC and for the offence under Section 5 (i) and 5 (m) read with Section 6 of POCSO Act, then life imprisonment would mean imprisonment for the remainder of the petitioner’s (original appellant’s) natural life, and in that case, the very purpose of the court in not imposing the sentence of life imprisonment for the remainder of petitioner’s life for the offence under Section 376(A) of IPC would be frustrated.

The top court of the country modified the sentences to the extent that the accused would undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of 20 years for the offence under Sections 376(2)(i) and 376(2)(m) of IPC, and for a period of 20 years for the offence under Section 5 (i) and 5 (m) read with Section 6 of the POCSO Act.

It said as per the order dated April 19, 2022, he was to undergo life imprisonment for offence punishable under Section 302 IPC and a period of 20 years for the offence under section 376A, IPC. The punishment imposed was to run concurrently.

The Supreme Court explained that in effect, the convict has to undergo life imprisonment for the offence of murder and life imprisonment for 20 years for other rape offences.

It added that since the condition till the remainder of life has not been applied in the case, the convict would be eligible to seek remission of sentence after 20 years.

The Supreme Court had dismissed a petition filed by the mother of the girl in July this year, seeking review its order of commuting the death sentence of the accused. However, the court said that the commutation was done by it after bestowing attention to the relevant factors.

(Case title: Mohd Firoz vs State of MP)

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