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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

“Whether consecutive life sentences can be awarded to a convict on being found guilty of a series of murders for which he has been tried in a single trial?.”= We are not unmindful of the fact that this Court has in several other cases directed sentences of imprisonment for life to run consecutively having regard to the gruesome and brutal nature of the offence committed by the prisoner. For instance, this Court has in Ravindra Trimbak Chouthmal vs. State of Maharashtra (1996) 4 SCC 148, while commuting death sentence penalty to one of imprisonment for life directed that the sentence of seven years rigorous imprisonment under Section 207 IPC shall start running after life imprisonment has run its due course. So also in Ronny vs. State of Maharashtra (1998) 3 SCC 625 this Court has while altering the death sentence to that of imprisonment for life directed that while the sentence for all other offences shall run concurrently, the sentence under Section 376 (2)(g) shall run consecutively after running of sentences for other offences. To the extent these decisions may be understood to hold that life sentence can also run consecutively do not lay down the correct law and shall stand overruled. - In conclusion our answer to the question is in the negative. We hold that while multiple sentences for imprisonment for life can be awarded for multiple murders or other offences punishable with imprisonment for life, the life sentences so awarded cannot be directed to run consecutively. Such sentences would, however, be super imposed over each other so that any remission or commutation granted by the competent authority in one does not ipso facto result in remission of the sentence awarded to the prisoner for the other. - The power of the Court to direct the order in which sentences will run is unquestionable in view of the language employed in Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. The Court can, therefore, legitimately direct that the prisoner shall first undergo the term sentence before the commencement of his life sentence. Such a direction shall be perfectly legitimate and in tune with Section 31. The converse however may not be true for if the Court directs the life sentence to start first it would necessarily imply that the term sentence would run concurrently. That is because once the prisoner spends his life in jail, there is no question of his undergoing any further sentence. Whether or not the direction of the Court below calls for any modification or alteration is a matter with which we are not concerned. The Regular Bench hearing the appeals would be free to deal with that aspect of the matter having regard to what we have said in the foregoing paragraphs.

                                                                  REPORTABLE

                        IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                       CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

                     CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS.231-233 OF 2009


Muthuramalingam & Ors.               ...Appellant(s)

                                   Versus
State Rep. by Insp. of Police             ...Respondent(S)

                                    WITH

                       CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.225 OF 2009

                     CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS.226-227 OF 2009

                       CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.895 OF 2009

                                     AND

                       CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.429 OF 2015


                               J U D G M E N T
T.S. THAKUR, CJI.

A Bench comprising three-Judges  of  this  Court  has  referred  to  us  the
following short but interesting question:
“Whether consecutive life sentences can be awarded to  a  convict  on  being
found guilty of a series of murders for which he has been tried in a  single
trial?.”
The question arises in the following circumstances:
3.    The appellants were tried for several offences  including  an  offence
punishable under Section 302 of the Indian  Penal  Code,  1860  (for  short,
“the IPC”) for several murders allegedly  committed  by  them  in  a  single
incident. They were found guilty and sentenced to suffer varying  sentences,
including a sentence of imprisonment for life for each one  of  the  murders
committed by them.  What is important is that the sentence  of  imprisonment
for life for each one of the murders  was  directed  to  run  consecutively.
The result  was  that  the  appellants  were  to  undergo  consecutive  life
sentences ranging between two to eight such  sentences  depending  upon  the
number of murders committed by them.   Criminal  appeals  preferred  against
the conviction and the award of consecutive life  sentences  having  failed,
the appellants have filed the present appeals to assail  the  judgments  and
orders passed by the courts below.

4.    When the appeals came up for hearing before  a  three-Judge  Bench  of
this Court, learned counsel for the appellant appears to have  confined  his
challenge to the validity of the direction issued by  the  Trial  Court  and
affirmed by the High Court that  the  sentences  of  imprisonment  for  life
awarded to  each  one  of  the  appellants  for  several  murders  allegedly
committed by them would run  consecutively  and  not  concurrently.  It  was
argued that in terms of Section 31 of  the  Criminal  Procedure  Code,  1973
(for short, “the Cr.P.C.”) the sentence of life imprisonment awarded to  the
appellants for different murders alleged to  have  been  committed  by  them
could run concurrently and not consecutively as ordered by the  Trial  Court
and the High Court. Reliance in support of that submission was  placed  upon
a decision  of  a  three-Judge  Bench  of  this  Court  in  O.M.  Cherian  @
Thankachan vs. State of Kerala & Ors., (2015) 2 SCC 501  and  a  three-Judge
Bench decision of this Court in Duryodhan Rout vs. State of Orissa (2015)  2
SCC 783.

5.    On behalf of the respondent – State of Tamil  Nadu,  reliance  appears
to have been placed upon two other decisions of this Court  in  Kamalanantha
and Ors. vs. State of Tamil Nadu, (2005) 5 SCC 194 and  Sanaullah  Khan  vs.
State of Bihar, (2013) 3 SCC 52 to argue that it was legally permissible  to
award more than one  life  sentence  to  a  convict  for  different  murders
committed by him with a direction that the sentences so  awarded  shall  run
consecutively. The Bench hearing the  appeal  noticing  a  conflict  in  the
views  taken  by  this  Court  on  the  question  whether  consecutive  life
sentences were legally permissible, directed the matter to be placed  before
a larger bench  comprising  Five  Judges  to  resolve  the  conflict  by  an
authoritative  pronouncement. That is precisely how these appeals have  been
placed before us for an authoritative pronouncement.

6.    We have heard learned counsel for the parties at considerable  length.
Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. which deals with sentences in cases of  conviction
of several offences at one trial runs as under :

“31. Sentences in cases of conviction of several offences at one trial.

(1) When a person is convicted at one trial of two  or  more  offences,  the
Court may, subject to the provisions of section 71 of the Indian Penal  Code
(45 of 1860), sentence him for such offences,  to  the  several  punishments
prescribed  therefor  which  such  Court  is  competent  to  inflict;   such
punishments when consisting of imprisonment to commence the  one  after  the
expiration of the other in such order as the Court may  direct,  unless  the
Court directs that such punishments shall run concurrently.
(2) In the case of consecutive sentences, it shall not be necessary for  the
Court by reason only of the aggregate punishment for  the  several  offences
being in excess of the punishment  which  it  is  competent  to  inflict  on
conviction of a single offence, to send the  offender  for  trial  before  a
higher Court: Provided that-
(a) in no case shall such person be sentenced  to  imprisonment  for  longer
period than fourteen years;
(b) the  aggregate  punishment  shall  not  exceed  twice  the   amount   of
punishment which the Court is competent to inflict for a single offence.
(3) For the purpose of appeal by a convicted person, the  aggregate  of  the
consecutive sentences passed against him under this section shall be  deemed
to be a single sentence.”

7.    A careful reading of the  above  would  show  that  the  provision  is
attracted only in cases where  two  essentials  are  satisfied  viz.  (1)  a
person is convicted at one trial and (2)  the  trial  is  for  two  or  more
offences. It is only when both  these  conditions  are  satisfied  that  the
Court can sentence the offender to several punishments  prescribed  for  the
offences committed by him provided  the  Court  is  otherwise  competent  to
impose such punishments.  What is significant is that  such  punishments  as
the Court may decide to award for several offences committed by the  convict
when comprising imprisonment shall commence one after the expiration of  the
other in such order as the  Court  may  direct  unless  the  Court   in  its
discretion orders that such punishment shall run concurrently.   Sub-section
(2) of Section 31 on a plain reading makes it unnecessary for the  Court  to
send the  offender  for  trial  before  a  higher  Court  only  because  the
aggregate punishment for several offences happens to be  in  excess  of  the
punishment which such Court is competent to award provided  always  that  in
no case can the person so sentenced be imprisoned for a period  longer  than
14 years and the aggregate punishment does not exceed twice  the  punishment
which the court is competent to inflict for a single  offence.  Interpreting
Section 31(1), a three-Judge Bench of this  Court  in  O.M.  Cherian’s  case
(supra) declared that if two life sentences are imposed  on  a  convict  the
Court must necessarily direct those  sentences  to  run  concurrently.   The
Court said:

“Section 31(1) CrPC enjoins a further direction by the court to specify  the
order in which one particular sentence shall commence after  the  expiration
of the other.   Difficulties  arise  when  the  courts  impose  sentence  of
imprisonment for life and also sentences of  imprisonment  for  fixed  term.
In such cases, if the court does not direct that  the  sentences  shall  run
concurrently, then the sentences will  run  consecutively  by  operation  of
Section 31(1) CrPC.  There is no question of the  convict  first  undergoing
the sentence of imprisonment for life and thereafter undergoing the rest  of
the sentences of imprisonment for fixed term and any  such  direction  would
be unworkable.  Since sentence of imprisonment for life means jail till  the
end of normal life of the convict, the sentence  of  imprisonment  of  fixed
term has to necessarily run concurrently with  life  imprisonment.  In  such
case, it will be in order if the Sessions Judges exercise  their  discretion
in issuing direction for concurrent running of sentences.  Likewise  if  two
life sentences are imposed on the convict, necessarily,  the  court  has  to
direct those sentences to run concurrently.”

8.    To the same effect is the decision of a two-Judge Bench of this  Court
in Duryodhan Rout’s case (supra) in which this  Court  took  the  view  that
since life imprisonment means imprisonment of full span of  life  there  was
no question of awarding consecutive sentences  in  case  of  conviction  for
several offences at one trial. Relying upon the proviso to  sub-Section  (2)
of Section 31, this Court held that where a person is convicted for  several
offences including one for which life sentences can be awarded  the  proviso
to Section 31(2) shall forbid running of such sentences consecutively.

9.    It would appear from the  above  two  pronouncements  that  the  logic
behind life sentences not  running  consecutively  lies  in  the  fact  that
imprisonment for life implies imprisonment till the end of the  normal  life
of the convict. If that proposition  is  sound,  the  logic  underlying  the
ratio of the decisions of this Court in  O.M.  Cherian  and  Duryodhan  Rout
cases (supra) would also be equally sound.  What then needs to  be  examined
is whether imprisonment for life does indeed  imply  imprisonment  till  the
end of the normal life of the  convict  as  observed  in  O.M.  Cherian  and
Duryodhan Rout’s cases (supra).  That question, in our  considered  opinion,
is no longer res integra, the same having been examined and answered in  the
affirmative by a long line of decisions handed down by this  Court.  We  may
gainfully refer to some of those decisions at this stage.

10.   In Gopal Vinayak Godse vs. State of Maharashtra, (1961) 3  SCR  440  a
Constitution Bench of this Court held that  a  prisoner  sentenced  to  life
imprisonment was bound to serve the remainder of his life in  prison  unless
the sentence is commuted or remitted by the appropriate  authority.  Such  a
sentence could not be equated with a fixed term.

11.   In Dalabir Singh vs. State of Punjab, (1979) 3 SCC 745  a  three-Judge
Bench of this Court observed:
“….life imprisonment strictly means imprisonment for the whole of the  man's
life, but in practice amounts to incarceration for a period between  10  and
14 years which may, at the option of the convicting  court,  be  subject  to
the condition that the sentence of imprisonment shall last as long  as  life
lasts where there are exceptional indications of  murderous  recidivism  and
the community cannot run the risk of the convict being at large.”



12.   Again in State of Punjab vs. Joginder Singh (1992)  2  SCC  661,  this
Court held that if the sentence is ‘imprisonment for life’ the  convict  has
to pass the remainder of his life under imprisonment unless of course he  is
granted remission by a competent authority in exercise of the powers  vested
in it under Sections 432 and 433 of the Cr.P.C.

13.   In Maru Ram vs. Union of India and Ors. (1981) 1  SCC  107  also  this
Court following Godse’s case (supra) held that imprisonment for  life  lasts
until last breath of the prisoner and  whatever  the  length  of  remissions
earned the prisoner could claim release only if the remaining  sentences  is
remitted by the Government. The Court observed:
“We follow Godse's case to hold that imprisonment for life lasts  until  the
last breath and whatever the length of remission  earned  the  prisoner  can
claim  release  only  if  the  remaining  sentence  is   remitted   by   the
Government.”


14.   In Ashok Kumar @ Golu vs. Union of India (1991) 3 SCC 498, this  Court
had yet another  occasion  to  examine  the  true  meaning  and  purport  of
expression “imprisonment for life” and declared that when read in the  light
of Section 45 of the IPC the said expression would ordinarily mean the  full
and complete  span  of  life.  The  following  passage  in  this  regard  is
apposite:
“12.  xxx

      The expression ‘imprisonment for life’ must be read in the context  of
Section 45, IPC.  Under that provision the word ‘life’ denotes the  life  of
a human being unless the contrary appears from the context.   We  have  seen
that the punishments are set out in Section 53, imprisonment for life  being
one of them.  Read in the light of  Section  45  it  would  ordinarily  mean
imprisonment for the full or complete span of life.   …..”


15.   To the same effect is the decision  of  this  Court  in  the  case  of
Laxman Naskar vs. Union of India, (2000) 2 SCC 595  where  this  Court  held
that life sentence is nothing less than lifelong  imprisonment  although  by
earning remission, the  life  convict  could  pray  for  pre-mature  release
before completing 20 years of imprisonment including remissions earned.

16.   Reference may also be made to the decisions of this  Court  in  Subash
Chander vs. Krishan Lal, (2001)  4  SCC  458,  Shri  Bhagwan  vs.  State  of
Rajasthan, (2001) 6 SCC 296 and Swamy Shraddananda vs. State  of  Karnataka,
(2008) 13 SCC 767 which too reiterate the  legal  position  settled  by  the
earlier mentioned decisions of  this  Court.  A  recent  Constitution  Bench
decision of this Court in Union of India vs. Sriharan, 2015 (13)  SCALE  165
also had another occasion to review the case law  on  the  subject.  Relying
upon the decisions of this Court in Sambhaji Krishna, Ratan Singh, Maru  Ram
and Ranjit Singh’s cases (supra) this Court observed:

“It is quite apparent that this Court by stating as above has  affirmed  the
legal position that the life imprisonment only means  the  entirety  of  the
life unless it is curtailed by remissions validly granted under the Code  of
Criminal Procedure by the Appropriate Government or Under  Articles  72  and
161 of the Constitution by the Executive Head viz.,  the  President  or  the
Governor of the State, respectively.”

17.   The legal position is, thus, fairly  well  settled  that  imprisonment
for life is a sentence for the remainder of the life of the offender  unless
of course the remaining sentence is commuted or remitted  by  the  competent
authority.  That being so, the provisions of Section 31 under  Cr.P.C.  must
be so interpreted as to be consistent with  the  basic  tenet  that  a  life
sentence requires the prisoner to spend the rest  of  his  life  in  prison.
Any direction that requires the offender to undergo  imprisonment  for  life
twice over would be anomalous and irrational for it will disregard the  fact
that humans like all other living beings have but one  life  to  live.    So
understood Section 31 (1) would  permit  consecutive  running  of  sentences
only if such sentences do not happen to be life sentences.  That is, in  our
opinion, the only way one can avoid an obvious impossibility of  a  prisoner
serving two consecutive life sentences.

18.   A somewhat similar question fell for  consideration  before  a  three-
Judge  Bench  of  this  Court  in  Ranjit  Singh  vs.  Union  Territory   of
Chandigarh, (1991) 4 SCC 304.  The prisoner was in that case  convicted  for
murder and sentenced to  undergo  life  imprisonment.  He  was  released  on
parole while undergoing  the  life  sentence  when  he  committed  a  second
offence of murder for which also he was convicted and sentenced  to  undergo
imprisonment for life.  In an appeal filed  against  the  second  conviction
and sentence, this Court by an order dated  30th  September,  1983  directed
that the imprisonment for life awarded to him should  not  run  concurrently
with his earlier sentence of life imprisonment. The Court directed  that  in
the event of remission or commutation of the  earlier  sentence  awarded  to
the prisoner, the second  imprisonment  for  life  awarded  for  the  second
murder committed by him shall commence.  Aggrieved  by  the  said  direction
which made  the  second  life  sentence  awarded  to  him  consecutive,  the
prisoner filed  a  writ  petition  under  Article  32  of  the  Constitution
primarily on the ground that this Court’s order dated 30th  September,  1983
was contrary to Section 427 (2) of  the  Cr.P.C.,  according  to  which  any
person already undergoing sentence of imprisonment for life if sentenced  to
undergo imprisonment for life, the subsequent sentence  so  awarded  to  him
shall run concurrently with such previous sentence.   Relying  upon  Godse’s
and Maru Ram’s cases (supra), this Court held that imprisonment for life  is
a sentence for remainder of the life of the offender. There was,  therefore,
no question of a  subsequent  sentence  of  imprisonment  for  life  running
consecutively as per the  general  rule  contained  in  sub-section  (1)  of
Section 427. This Court observed:

“8.xxxxxxxxx
As rightly contended by Shri Garg, and  not  disputed  by  Shri  Lalit,  the
earlier sentence of imprisonment for life being  understood  to  mean  as  a
sentence to serve the  remainder  of  life  in  prison  unless  commuted  or
remitted by the appropriate authority and a  person  having  only  one  life
span, the sentence on a subsequent conviction of imprisonment for a term  or
imprisonment for life can only be superimposed to the earlier life  sentence
and certainly not added to it since extending the life span of the  offender
or for that matter  anyone  is  beyond  human  might.  It  is  this  obvious
situation which is stated in  sub-section  (2)  of  Section  427  since  the
general rule enunciated in sub-section  (1)  thereof  is  that  without  the
court’s direction the subsequent sentence  will  not  run  concurrently  but
consecutively. The only situation in which no  direction  of  the  court  is
needed to make the subsequent sentence run concurrently  with  the  previous
sentence is provided for in sub-section (2) which has been enacted to  avoid
any possible controversy based on sub-section (1) if  there  be  no  express
direction of the court to that effect. Sub-section (2) is in the  nature  of
an exception to the general rule enacted in sub-section (1) of  Section  427
that a sentence on subsequent conviction commences on expiry  of  the  first
sentence unless the court directs it to run concurrently.  The  meaning  and
purpose of sub-sections (1) and  (2)  of  Section  427  and  the  object  of
enacting sub-section (2) is, therefore, clear.”


19.   Having said  that,  this  Court  declared  that  once  the  subsequent
imprisonment for life awarded to  the  prisoner  is  superimposed  over  the
earlier life sentence, the grant of any remission  or  commutation  qua  the
earlier sentence of life  imprisonment  will  not  ipso  facto  benefit  the
prisoner qua the subsequent sentence of life imprisonment.  Such  subsequent
sentence would continue and shall remain  unaffected  by  the  remission  or
commutation of the earlier sentence.  This Court said :
“xxxxxxxxx

In other words, the operation of the  superimposed  subsequent  sentence  of
life imprisonment shall not be wiped out merely because in  respect  of  the
corresponding  earlier  sentence  of  life  imprisonment  any  remission  or
commutation has been granted by the appropriate authority.  The  consequence
is that the petitioner would not get any practical benefit of any  remission
or  commutation  in  respect  of  his  earlier  sentence  because   of   the
superimposed subsequent life sentence unless the same corresponding  benefit
in respect of the subsequent sentence is also granted to the petitioner.  It
is in this manner that the direction is given for the two sentences of  life
imprisonment not to run concurrently.”

20.   Ranjit  Singh’s  case  (supra)  was  no  doubt  dealing  with  a  fact
situation different from the one with which we are dealing  in  the  present
case, inasmuch as Ranjit Singh’s case (supra) was covered by Section 427  of
the Cr.P.C. as the prisoner in that case was already undergoing  a  sentence
of life imprisonment when he committed a second offence of murder  that  led
to his conviction and award of a second sentence of  life  imprisonment.  In
the cases  at  hand,  the  appellants  were  not  convicts  undergoing  life
sentence at the time of  commission  of  multiple  murders  by  them.  Their
cases, therefore, fall more appropriately  under  Section  31  of  the  Code
which deals with conviction of  several  offences  at  one  trial.   Section
31(1) deals with and empowers the Court to award, subject to the  provisions
of Section 71 of the IPC, several punishments prescribed for  such  offences
and mandates that such punishments when  consisting  of  imprisonment  shall
commence one after the expiration of the other in such order  as  the  Court
may  direct  unless  the  Court   directs   such   punishments   shall   run
concurrently. The power to award suitable  sentences  for  several  offences
committed by the offenders is not and cannot  be  disputed.   The  order  in
which such sentences shall run can also be stipulated by the Court  awarding
such sentences.  So also the Court is competent in its discretion to  direct
that punishment  awarded  shall  run  concurrently  not  consecutively.  The
question, however, is whether the provision admits of  more  than  one  life
sentences running  consecutively.   That  question  can  be  answered  on  a
logical basis only if one accepts the truism that humans have one  life  and
the sentence of life imprisonment once awarded would  require  the  prisoner
to spend the remainder of his life in jail unless the sentence  is  commuted
or remitted by the competent authority.  That, in our  opinion,  happens  to
be the logic behind Section 427 (2) of  the  Cr.P.C.  mandating  that  if  a
prisoner  already  undergoing  life  sentence  is   sentenced   to   another
imprisonment for life for a subsequent offence committed  by  him,  the  two
sentences so awarded shall run concurrently and not consecutively.   Section
427 (2) in that way carves out an exception to the general  rule  recognised
in Section 427 (1) that sentences awarded upon conviction for  a  subsequent
offence shall run consecutively.  The  Parliament,  it  manifests  from  the
provisions of Section 427 (2), was  fully  cognizant  of  the  anomaly  that
would arise  if  a  prisoner  condemned  to  undergo  life  imprisonment  is
directed to do so twice over.  It has, therefore, carved  out  an  exception
to the general rule to clearly recognise that in the case of life  sentences
for two distinct offences separately tried and  held  proved  the  sentences
cannot be directed to run consecutively.   The  provisions  of  Section  427
(2) apart, in Ranjit Singh’s case (supra), this  Court  has  in  terms  held
that since life sentence implies imprisonment for the remainder of the  life
of the convict, consecutive life sentences cannot be awarded as humans  have
only one life. That logic, in our view, must extend to  Section  31  of  the
Cr.P.C. also no matter Section  31  does  not  in  terms  make  a  provision
analogous to Section 427 (2)  of  the  Code.  The  provision  must,  in  our
opinion, be so interpreted as to prevent any anomaly or  irrationality.   So
interpreted Section 31 (1) must mean that sentences  awarded  by  the  Court
for several offences committed  by  the  prisoner  shall  run  consecutively
(unless the Court directs otherwise) except  where  such  sentences  include
imprisonment for life which can and must run  concurrently.    We  are  also
inclined to hold that if more than one life sentences  are  awarded  to  the
prisoner, the same would get super  imposed  over  each  other.   This  will
imply that in case the prisoner is granted the benefit of any  remission  or
commutation qua one such sentence, the benefit of such remission  would  not
ipso facto extend to the other.

21.   We may now turn  to  the  conflict  noticed  in  the  reference  order
between the decisions  of  this  Court  in  Cherian  and  Duryodhan’s  cases
(supra) on the one hand and Kamalanatha and Sanaullah Khan’s  cases  (supra)
on the other.

22.   In  O.M.  Cherian’s  case  (supra)  the  prisoner  was  convicted  and
sentenced to imprisonment for offences punishable under Sections 498  A  and
306 of the IPC.  The Courts below had in that case awarded to  the  convicts
imprisonment for two years under Section 498 A of the IPC  and  seven  years
under Section 306 of  IPC  and  directed  the  same  to  run  consecutively.
Aggrieved by the said direction, the prisoners appealed  to  this  Court  to
contend that the sentences awarded to them ought  to  run  concurrently  and
not consecutively. The appeal was  referred  to  a  larger  bench  of  Three
Judges of this Court in the light of the decision in Mohd. Akhtar Hussain  @
Ibrahim Ahmed  Bhatti  vs.  Assistant  Collector  of  Customs  (Prevention),
Ahmedabad and  Anr.  (1988)  4  SCC  183.   Before  the  larger  bench,  the
prisoners relied upon Mohd Akhtar Hussain’s case (supra) and  Manoj  @  Panu
vs. State of Haryana (2014) 2 SCC 153 to contend that  since  the  prisoners
were found guilty of more than two offences committed in the course  of  one
incident, such sentences ought to  run  concurrently.   This  Court  upon  a
review of the case law on the subject held that Section 31  of  the  Cr.P.C.
vested the court with  the  power  to  order  in  its  discretion  that  the
sentences awarded shall run concurrently in case of  conviction  of  two  or
more offences.  This Court declared that it was  difficult  to  lay  down  a
straightjacket rule for the exercise  of  such  discretion  by  the  courts.
Whether a sentence should run concurrently  or  consecutively  would  depend
upon the nature of the offence and the facts and circumstances of the  case.
 All that could be said was that the discretion has to  be  exercised  along
judicial lines and not mechanically.  Having said that, the  Court  observed
that if two life sentences are imposed on a convict the court has to  direct
the same to run concurrently. That is because sentence of  imprisonment  for
life means imprisonment till the normal life of a convict.

23.   As noticed above, Cherian’s case (supra) did not involve  awarding  of
two or more life sentences to the prisoner.  It  was  a  case  of  two  term
sentences being awarded for two different offences committed in  the  course
of the same transaction and tried together at  one  trial.   Even  so,  this
Court held that life sentences cannot be made to run  consecutively  plainly
because a single life sentence ensures that the remainder  of  the  life  of
the prisoner is spent by him in jail.   Such being the  case,  the  question
of a second such sentence being undergone consecutively did not arise.

24.   In Duryodhan Rout’s  case  (supra)  the  prisoner  was  convicted  for
offences punishable under Sections 302, 376 (2)(f) and 201 of  the  IPC  and
sentenced to death for the offence of murder and rigorous  imprisonment  for
the offence punishable under Section 376(2)(f).  Imprisonment for  a  period
of one year was additionally  awarded  under  Section  201  of  IPC  with  a
direction that the sentences would run consecutively.  In appeal,  the  High
Court altered the sentence of death to imprisonment for life  while  leaving
the remaining sentences  untouched.  The  petitioner  then  approached  this
Court to argue  that  the  sentences  ought  to  run  concurrently  and  not
consecutively as directed by the Courts below.  Relying  upon  the  decision
of this Court in Gopal Vinayak’s case (supra) and several  other  subsequent
decisions on the subject this Court held that the sentence  of  imprisonment
for life means imprisonment for the remainder of the life of  the  prisoner.
The Court further held that Section 31  of  the  Cr.P.C.  would  not  permit
consecutive running of  life  sentence  and  the  term  sentence  since  the
aggregate punishment of the petitioner would go beyond the  outer  limit  of
14 years stipulated in the proviso to  Section  31(2)  of  the  Cr.P.C.  The
Court observed:

“Section 31 of Cr.P.C.  relates  to  sentence  in  cases  of  conviction  of
several offences at one trial.  Proviso to Sub-Section  (2)  to  Section  31
lays down the embargo whether the aggregate punishment of prisoner is for  a
period of longer than 14 years.  In view of the fact that life  imprisonment
means imprisonment for full and complete  span  of  life,  the  question  of
consecutive sentences in case of conviction  for  several  offences  at  one
trial does  not  arise.   Therefore,  in  case  a  person  is  sentenced  of
conviction of several offences, including one  that  of  life  imprisonment,
the proviso to Section  31(2)  shall  come  into  play  and  no  consecutive
sentence can be imposed.”


25.   While we have no doubt about the correctness of the  proposition  that
two life sentences cannot be directed to run consecutively, we do not  think
that the reason for saying so  lies  in  the  proviso  to  Section  31  (2).
Section 31(2) of the Cr.P.C. deals with situations where the Court  awarding
consecutive sentences is  not  competent  to  award  the  aggregate  of  the
punishment for  the  several  offences  for  which  the  prisoner  is  being
sentenced upon conviction. A careful reading of sub-Section (2)  would  show
that the same is concerned only with situations where  the  Courts  awarding
the sentence and directing the same to run consecutively  is  not  competent
to award the aggregate of  the  punishment  upon  conviction  for  a  single
offence. The proviso further stipulates that in  cases  falling  under  sub-
section (2), the sentence shall in no  case  go  beyond  14  years  and  the
aggregate punishment shall not exceed twice the amount of  punishment  which
the Court is competent to award. Now in cases tried by the  Sessions  Court,
there is no limitation as to the  Court’s  power  to  award  any  punishment
sanctioned by law including the capital punishment.  Sub-section  (2)  will,
therefore, have no application to a case tried by  the  Sessions  Court  nor
would Sub-section (2) step in to forbid a direction for consecutive  running
of sentences awardable by the Court of Session.

26.   To the extent Duryodhan Rout case (supra) relies upon proviso to  Sub-
section (2) to support the  conclusion  that  a  direction  for  consecutive
running of sentences is impermissible, it does not state the law  correctly,
even when the conclusion that life imprisonment means for the full  span  of
one’s life and consecutive life sentences cannot  be  awarded  is  otherwise
sound and acceptable.

27.   In Kamalanantha vs. State  of  Tamil  Nadu,  (2005)  5  SCC  194,  the
prisoners were convicted amongst others for  offences  under  Sections  376,
302, 354 of the IPC and sentenced to under rigorous  imprisonment  for  life
for offences under Sections 376 and 302 and various  terms  of  imprisonment
for other offences with the direction that the sentences awarded  shall  run
consecutively.  One of the issues that was raised in support of  the  appeal
was that the Courts below were not justified in  awarding  consecutive  life
sentences. That contention was rejected by a two-Judge Bench of  this  Court
in the following words:
“The contention of Mr. Jethmalani that the term “imprisonment”  enjoined  in
Section 31 CrPC does not include imprisonment for life is unacceptable.  The
term “imprisonment” is not defined under the  Code  of  Criminal  Procedure.
Section 31 of the Code falls under Chapter III of the Code which deals  with
power of courts. Section 28 of the Code empowers the High Court to pass  any
sentence authorised by law. Similarly, the  Sessions  Judge  and  Additional
Sessions Judge may pass any sentence authorised by law, except the  sentence
of death which shall be subject to confirmation by the High  Court.  In  our
opinion the term “imprisonment” would include the sentence  of  imprisonment
for life.”


28.   The above view runs contrary to the ratio of this Court’s decision  in
Cherian’s case (supra) and Duryodhan Rout’s case  (supra).  That  apart  the
view taken in Kamalanantha’s case has not noticed the basic premise  that  a
life sentence once awarded would imply  that  a  prisoner  shall  spend  the
remainder of his life in prison.  Once that happens there is no question  of
his undergoing another  life  sentence.   To  the  extent  the  decision  in
Kamalanantha’s case takes the view that  the  Court  can  for  each  offence
award  suitable  punishment  which  may  include   multiple   sentences   of
imprisonment for life for multiple offences punishable with death, there  is
and can be no quarrel with the stated proposition. The Court can and  indeed
ought to exercise its powers of awarding  the  sentence  sanctioned  by  law
which may include a life sentence.  But  if  the  decision  in  Kamalanantha
purports to hold  that  sentence  of  imprisonment  for  life  can  also  be
directed to run consecutively, the same does not appear to be sound for  the
reasons we have already indicated earlier. We need to  remember  that  award
of multiple sentences of imprisonment for life so that  such  sentences  are
super imposed over one another is entirely  different  from  directing  such
sentence to run consecutively.

29.   Sanaullah Khan vs. State of Bihar, (2013) 3 SCC 52 simply follows  the
view taken in Kamalanantha’s case and,  therefore,  does  not  add  any  new
dimension to call for any further deliberation on the subject.

30.   We are not unmindful of the fact that this Court has in several  other
cases directed sentences of  imprisonment  for  life  to  run  consecutively
having regard to the gruesome and brutal nature of the offence committed  by
the prisoner.  For instance, this Court has in  Ravindra  Trimbak  Chouthmal
vs. State of Maharashtra (1996) 4 SCC 148, while  commuting  death  sentence
penalty to one of imprisonment for life directed that the sentence of  seven
years rigorous imprisonment under Section 207 IPC shall start running  after
life imprisonment has run its due course. So also  in  Ronny  vs.  State  of
Maharashtra (1998) 3 SCC  625  this  Court  has  while  altering  the  death
sentence to that of imprisonment for life directed that while  the  sentence
for all other offences shall run concurrently, the  sentence  under  Section
376 (2)(g) shall run consecutively after  running  of  sentences  for  other
offences.   To the extent these decisions may be  understood  to  hold  that
life sentence can also run consecutively do not lay  down  the  correct  law
and shall stand overruled.

31.   In conclusion our answer to the question is in the negative.  We  hold
that while multiple sentences for imprisonment for life can be  awarded  for
multiple murders or other offences punishable with  imprisonment  for  life,
the life sentences so awarded cannot be directed to run consecutively.  Such
sentences would, however, be super imposed  over  each  other  so  that  any
remission or commutation granted by the competent authority in one does  not
ipso facto result in remission of the sentence awarded to the  prisoner  for
the other.

32.   We may, while parting, deal with yet another dimension  of  this  case
argued before us namely whether the Court can direct life sentence and  term
sentences to run consecutively.  That aspect was argued keeping in view  the
fact that the appellants have been sentenced to imprisonment  for  different
terms apart from being awarded imprisonment for  life.   The  Trial  Court’s
direction affirmed by the High Court is that the said term  sentences  shall
run consecutively.   It was contended on behalf of the appellants that  even
this part of the direction is not legally sound, for once  the  prisoner  is
sentenced to undergo imprisonment for life, the  term  sentence  awarded  to
him must run concurrently.  We do not, however, think so. The power  of  the
Court to direct the order in which sentences will run is  unquestionable  in
view of the language employed in Section 31 of the Cr.P.C.  The  Court  can,
therefore, legitimately direct that the prisoner  shall  first  undergo  the
term sentence  before  the  commencement  of  his  life  sentence.   Such  a
direction shall be perfectly legitimate and in tune with  Section  31.   The
converse however may not be true for if the Court directs the life  sentence
to start first it would necessarily imply that the term sentence  would  run
concurrently. That is because once the prisoner spends  his  life  in  jail,
there is no question of his undergoing any  further  sentence.   Whether  or
not the  direction  of  the  Court  below  calls  for  any  modification  or
alteration is a matter with which we are not concerned.  The  Regular  Bench
hearing the appeals would be free to deal with that  aspect  of  the  matter
having regard to what we have said in the foregoing paragraphs.

33.   The reference is accordingly answered.

                                                        ….………………………………..CJI.
                                                               (T.S. THAKUR)


                                            ………………….......................J.
                                          (FAKKIR MOHAMED IBRAHIM KALIFULLA)


                              ............................................J.
                                                                (A.K. SIKRI)


                              ............................................J.
                                                                (S.A. BOBDE)


                              ............................................J.
                                                              (R. BANUMATHI)

New Delhi
July 19, 2016

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