Each case presents its own distinctive features, its peculiar combinations of events and its unique configuration of facts. That is why, in the interest of individualized justice, it is necessary to vest sentencing discretion in the court so that appropriate sentence may be imposed by the court in the exercise of its judicial discretion.
|Case name:||Bachan Singh V/s State of Punjab|
|Citation:||1982 AIR 1325|
|Court:||The Supreme Court Of India|
|Bench:||Justice Chandrachud, Y.V. Jutice Bhagwati, P.N, Justice Sarkaria, Justice Ranjit Singh, Justice Gupta, A.C., Justice Untwalia, N.L.|
|Decided on:||August 16, 1982|
|Relevant Act/Sections:||Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 354 (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Articles 19, 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950, 35th Law Commission Report|
BRIEF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
- The Appellant Bachan Singh was convicted for his wife’s murder and was sentenced for life imprisonment. After undergoing the term of imprisonment ( i.e after his release) he was living with his cousin Hukam Singh and his family. Hukam Singh’s wife and his son objected the appellant’s living in their house.
- A few days prior to this occurrence in the midnight Vidya Bai was awakened by alarm and saw the appellant inflicting axe blow on her sister’s ( Veeran Bai) face. On the attempt to stop the appellant Vidya Bai got blown on her face and ear with axe leading injuries her face and ear making her unconscious.
- Diwan Singh who was sleeping at a distance woke up by the shriek and raised an alarm to wake Gulab Singh sleeping at a distance from there. On seeing an appellant with axe on Desa Bai’s face they both hurried to stop him. Noticing them moving towards him the appellant left the axe and ran away. Diwan Singh and Gulab Singh gave a chase to him but couldn’t apprehend him.
- The dead bodies of Durga bai , Vidya Bai, and Veeran Bai were taken to the hospital and an FIR was recorded.
- The trial court and high court seeing the grievousness of the injuries in the body of Vidya Bai categorized this into the inhumane act .
- The trial court and high court both accepted the testimony of Gulab Singh and Diwan Singh because of the fact that it was moonlit night and thus it was possible to recognize the face of the accused .
- Later Bachan Singh was tried and convicted and sentenced to death under Section 302, Indian Penal Code for the murders of Desa Singh, Durga Bai and Veeran Bai by the Sessions judge.
- The High Court confirmed his death sentence given by the sessions judge and dismissed his appeal. Bachan Singh then appealed to the Supreme Court by Special Leave, the Question raised in the appeal was, whether the facts of his case were “special reasons” for awarding him the death sentence as required in section 354(3) of CrPC, 1973.
ISSUE BEFORE THE COURT:
- Whether the death penalty provided for murder in Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code is unconstitutional?
- Whether the Facts found by the lower Courts would be considered “special reason” for awarding the death penalty as is required under Section 354(3) CRPC?
- whether Article 19 is at all applicable for judging the validity of the impugned provision in Section 302, Penal Code?
RATIO OF THE COURT:
- The court observed that Article 19, as in force today, reads as under: All citizens shall have the right:
- To freedom of speech and expression;
- To assemble peaceably and without arms;
- To form associations or unions;
- To move freely throughout the territory of India;
- To reside and settle in any part of the territory of India
- To practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.
- The court noted that as rightly pointed out by Shri Soli Sorabji, the condition precedent for the applicability of Article 19 is that the activity which the impugned law prohibits and penalises, must be within the purview and protection of Article 19 (1). Thus considered, can any one say that he has a legal right or fundamental freedom under Article 19 (1) to practise the profession of a hired assassin or to form associations or unions or engage in a conspiracy with the object of committing murders or dacoities. The argument that the provisions of the Penal Code, prescribing death sentence as an alternative penalty for murder have to be tested on the ground of Article 19, appears to proceed on the fallacy that the freedoms guaranteed by Article 19 (1) are absolute freedoms and they cannot be curtailed by law imposing reasonable restrictions, which may amount to total prohibition. Such an argument was advanced before the Constitution Bench in The State of Bombay v. R.M.D. Chamarbaugwala.(1)
- The last sentence which has been underlined by the court, appears to lend implicit approval to the rule of construction adopted by the majority of the learned Judges in A.K. Gopalan’s case, whereby they excluded from the purview of Article 19 certain provisions of the Indian Penal Code providing punishment for certain offences which could not be tested on the specific grounds-embodied in clauses (2) to (5) of that Article. This proposition enunciated in A.K. Gopalan’s case is only a product of the application of the basic canon that a construction which would lead to absurdity, should be eschewed.
- This passage from the judgment of the learned Judge exposes, in language remarkable for its succinctness as well as eloquence, the vagarious nature of the imposition of death penalty and highlights a few of the causes responsible for its erratic operation. The court found myself totally in agreement with these observations of the learned – Judge. But when it was contended that sentencing discretion is inherent in our legal system, and, in fact, it is desirable, because no two cases or criminals are identical and if no discretion is left to the court and sentencing is to be done according to a rigid predetermined formula leaving no room for judicial discretion, the sentencing process would cease to be judicial and would de-generate into a bed of procrustean cruelty.
- The argument was that having regard to the nature of the sentencing process, it is impossible to lay down any standards or guidelines which will provide for the endless and often unforeseeable variations in fact situations and sentencing discretion his necessarily to be left to the court and the vesting of such discretion in the court, even if no standards or guidelines are provided by the legislature for structuring or challenging such discretion, cannot be regarded as arbitrary or unreasonable.
- This argument, plausible though it may seem, is in the court’s opinion not well a founded and must be rejected. It is true that criminal cases do not fall into set behaviouristic patterns and it is almost impossible to find two cases which are exactly identical. There are, as pointed out by Sarkaria, J. in the majority judgment, “countless permutations and combinations which are beyond the anticipatory capacity of the human calculus”.
- Each case presents its own distinctive features, its peculiar combinations of events and its unique configuration of facts. That is why, in the interest of individualised justice, it is necessary to vest sentencing discretion in the court so that appropriate sentence may be imposed by the court in the exercise of its judicial discretion, having regard to the peculiar facts and circumstances of a given case, or else the. sentencing process would cease to be just and rational and justice would be sacrificed at the altar of blind uniformity. But at the same time, the sentencing discretion conferred upon the court cannot be altogether uncontrolled or unfettered.
- The strategy which is therefore followed by the legislatures while creating and defining offences is to prescribe the maximum punishment and in some cases, even the minimum and leave it to the discretion of the court to decide upon the actual term of imprisonment. This cannot be regarded as arbitrary or unreasonable since the discretion that is left to the court is to choose an appropriate term of punishment between the limits laid down by the legislature, having regard to the distinctive features and the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case. The conferment of such sentencing discretion is plainly and indubitably essential for rendering individualised justice. But where the discretion granted to the court is to choose between life and death without any standards or guidelines provided by the legislature, the death penalty does become arbitrary and unreasonable. The death penalty is qualitatively different from a sentence of imprisonment.
- The question would still remain whether the ’direct and inevitable consequence’ of that provision is to affect any of the rights guaranteed under the Article. That is a question on which I do not wish to express any definite opinion. It is sufficient for me to state that the ’object and form test’ or the ’pith and substance rule’ has been completely discarded by the decision in R.C. Cooper’s case and Maneka Gandhi’s case and it is now settled law that in order to locate the fundamental right violated by a statute, the court must consider what is the direct and inevitable consequence of the statute. The impugned statute may in its direct and inevitable effect invade more than one fundamental right and merely because it satisfies the requirement of one fundamental right, it is not freed from the obligation to meet the challenge of another applicable fundamental right.
DECISION HELD BY COURT:
- In this case the judgment was given by JUSTICE S.K SARKARIA that these are the reasons for which the court made my order dated May 9, 1980 declaring the death penalty provided under section 302 of the 371 Indian Penal Code read with section 354 sub-section (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is unconstitutional and void as being 5 violative of Articles 14 and 21.
- The court expressed the profound regret at the long delay in delivering this judgment but the reason is that there was a considerable mass of material which had to be collected from various sources and then examined and analysed and this took a large amount of time. Appeal dismissed.