Punishment should match severity of crime, says apex court

NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court has recommended that courts award punishment matching the severity of a crime, in accordance with the criminal justice system’s principle of ‘proportionality between crime and punishment’.

While imposing a sentence, the courts must also strike the right balance between the objectives of reforming a criminal and making it an effective deterrence for others from committing a crime, a bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and Mukundakam Sharma ruled.

‘Undue sympathy (to criminals) and imposing inadequate sentence would do more harm to the justice system and undermine the public confidence in the efficacy of law,’ said the bench. It added that ’society could not long endure under such serious threats’.

‘It is, therefore, the duty of every court to award proper sentence having regard to the nature of the offence and the manner in which it was executed or committed.’

The bench gave the ruling while restoring a 10-year jail term to a Rohtak native Raj Kumar who had been convicted by a trial court for a murderous bid on a man called Raj Swarup and causing him grievous injuries. He and three accomplices were held guilty of of assaulting Swarup and his two sons as they were on their way to attend a court hearing.

As a result of the assault, the victim suffers from a permanent loss of memory.

The Supreme Court restored the sentence of the trial court after setting aside a Punjab and Haryana High Court ruling, which had reduced the sentence to seven years without assigning any reason for it.

‘Anything less than a penalty of greatest severity for any serious crime is thought to be a measure of toleration that is unwarranted and unwise,’ the bench said.

A mismatch between the severities of crime and punishment makes punishment unjustifiable, said the bench, adding that ‘uniformly disproportionate punishment has some very undesirable practical consequences for the society’.

Maintaining that ‘protection of society and stamping out criminal proclivity must be the object of law’, the bench said that this objective ‘must be achieved by imposing appropriate sentence’.

The bench enhanced Raj Kumar’s jail term to 10 years, saying that he was personally responsible for causing the grievous injuries from a sharp-edged weapon.

The bench, however, did not enhance the sentences of his other two co-convicts as they were not responsible for causing as ferocious injuries as those caused by Raj Kumar.

Recommending the synchronisation between the needs to reform a criminal and to deter a criminal from committing an offence, the bench said: ‘In operating the sentencing system, law should adopt the corrective machinery or the deterrence based on factual matrix.’

‘By deft modulation sentencing process be stern where it should be, and tempered with mercy where it warrants to be.’

‘The facts and given circumstances in each case, the nature of the crime, the manner in which it was planned and committed, the motive for commission of the crime, the conduct of the accused, the nature of weapons used and all other attending circumstances are relevant facts’ to help determine the sentence, the bench said.

‘For instance a murder committed due to deep-seated mutual and personal rivalry may not call for penalty of death, but an organised crime or mass murders of innocent people would call for imposition of death sentence as deterrence.’


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