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Long delay in courts is a mitigating factor to decide on Quantum of Sentence : Supreme Court

 

A man was accused of corruption in 1984, the case came up for trial in 1994, He was convicted in 2003. High Court refused to interfere in the findings of Trial court and took 10 years for it. Finally Supreme Court mitigated the sentence, and imposed a fine of Rs. 50,000.  This decision by The Supreme Court is important in two aspects. One is that it exposes the ultra-slow criminal justice system in our country, and the other is the observation  “The long delay before the courts in taking a final decision with regard to the guilt or otherwise of the accused is one of the mitigating factors for the superior courts to take into consideration while taking a decision on the quantum of sentence”. Important observations by Supreme Court in this case is given below. Full judgment can be read here

  • Appellant was tried for offences under Section 161 of the Indian Penal Code  and Section 5(1)(d) read with Section 5(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947.The charge was that the appellant demanded and accepted bribe of Rs.265/- from a contractor  on 21.12.1984. The Sessions court convicted him of the charges and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of one and a half years with a fine of Rs.5, 000/- each under the charged Sections, as per Judgment dated 10.04.2003. The High Court declined to interfere with the conviction and sentence and dismissed the appeal as per Judgment dated 22.07.2013 and, hence, the appeal in Supreme Court.
  • “One wonders as to how it took ten years for the matter to be registered as sessions case and stranger is it to see that the trial also took almost ten years and still stranger is that the matter took ten years in the High Court.”
  • “In imposing a punishment, the concern of the court is with the nature of the act viewed as a crime or breach of the law. The maximum sentence or fine provided in law is an indicator on the gravity of the act. Having regard to the nature and mode of commission of an offence by a person and the mitigating factors, if any, the court has to take a decision as to whether the charge established falls short of the maximum gravity indicated in the statute, and if so, to what extent. The long delay before the courts in taking a final decision with regard to the guilt or otherwise of the accused is one of the mitigating factors for the superior courts to take into consideration while taking a decision on the quantum of sentence. As we have noted above, the FIR was registered by the CBI in 1984. The matter came before the sessions court only in 1994. The sessions court took almost ten years to conclude the trial and pronounce the judgment. Before the High Court, it took another ten years. Thus, it is a litigation of almost three decades in a simple trap case and that too involving a petty amount.”
  • “The appellant is now aged 76. We are informed that he is otherwise not keeping in good health, having had also cardio vascular problems. The offence is of the year 1984. It is almost three decades now. The accused has already undergone physical incarceration for three months and mental incarceration for about thirty years. Whether at this age and stage, it would not be economically wasteful, and a liability to the State to keep the appellant in prison, is the question we have to address. Having given thoughtful consideration to all the aspects of the matter, we are of the view that the facts mentioned above would certainly be special reasons for reducing the substantive sentence but enhancing the fine, while maintaining the conviction.”

 

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