The five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment recently clarified that a trial court could make a man held guilty of heinous crimes serve one jail term followed by another, consecutively, rather than just concurrently. However, this was not possible in case of multiple life sentences. One prison term could be followed by a life sentence but one life sentence cannot follow another. The court was hearing appeals filed by convicts accused of multiple murders in a single instance in Tamil Nadu.
In case of a consecutive sentence, a convict serves the total number of years in prison, as dictated by the court, one after the other. In the case of concurrent sentence, multiple prison terms run together.
According to a TOI report, the court made it clear that a trial court had the discretion to award sentences concurrently. However, if the trial court did not specify that the sentences were to run concurrently, consecutive sentence would automatically come into play.
Section 31 (1) of CrPc makes provision for the presumption in favour of consecutive sentences. Section 31(1) of the CrPc sets out that the consecutive nature of the punishment is subject to the provisions of Section 71 of the IPC. This section explains sentencing with regard to the parts of an offence.
Regarding life sentences, the Supreme Court made it clear, that once sentenced to life, a convict cannot be sentenced to a consecutive life term. Life imprisonment extends to the very death of the offender who has but one life to live, the Chief Justice of India, TS Thakur, pointed out
However, more than one concurrent life term can be prescribed for multiple offences, the court observed. It ruled that this would have to be done in such a manner that any remission or commutation given for one of the life sentences does not result in the remission of the other life sentence.The second life sentence would be superimposed on the first life sentence, the court said.This would ensure that the person would remain perpetually in jail as the second sentence would operate even if remission is given in the first sentence.