Supreme Court allows POCSO convict’s review petition, commutes his life imprisonment to 20 years RI

The Supreme Court, in a rare exercise of its power under the review jurisdiction, modified the sentence of life imprisonment imposed earlier on a convict, to a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for 20 years in order to achieve consonance among punishments under different offences committed by him.

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THE Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India U.U Lalit and comprising Justices Bela M. Trivedi and S. Ravindra Bhat today allowed a criminal review petition and modified the punishment of the appellant petitioner from life imprisonment (LI) for the remainder of his natural life to rigorous imprisonment (RI) for a period of 20 years. (Mohd. Firoz versus State of Madhya Pradesh).

The Supreme Court, in this case,  had awarded a sentence of  20 years of RI to the appellant for the offence under Section 376A of IPC (punishment for causing death or resulting in a persistent vegetative state of the victim). The court had consciously avoided the award of LI under this section to the appellant, while it had commuted the sentence of death to LI for the offence under Section 302 IPC, as awarded and confirmed by the lower courts.

The court, however, had also confirmed the sentence of life imprisonment (‘LI’) for the appellant awarded by the lower courts for offences under sections 376(2)(i) (committing rape on a woman incapable of giving consent) and 376 (2)(m) (committing rape repeatedly on the same woman) read with section 6 of POCSO (punishment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault).

Also read: Probability of reformation cannot be ruled out: Supreme Court commutes death sentence of accused to life imprisonment for 30 years without remission

These two different sentences have apparently led to inconsistency, as the commutation to 20 years, RI under Section 376A of IPC was rendered ineffective because of the court’s confirmation of the LI for other offences by the lower courts.

The sessions court had awarded the death sentence under Section 302 IPC, which was later confirmed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

However, the Supreme Court, through order in criminal appeal, dated April 19, 2022, had modified the sentence of death on the grounds that this case could not be treated as rarest of the rare.

The Supreme court, in its April 19 judgment, had acknowledged that it had tried to balance the scales of retributive justice and restorative justice by reducing the punishment of the accused-appellant. “The maximum punishment prescribed may not always be the determinative factor for repairing the crippled psyche of the offender,” it had noted.

The appellant-accused had sought a review of punishment that was affirmed by the Supreme court.

Senior advocate, B.H. Marlapalle, assisting the court as amicus curiae, had submitted during the review hearing that the sentence of life imprisonment with qualification for “remainder of his natural life” could not have been awarded in respect of the offence punishable under section 6 of the POCSO Act.  It is because the amendment to section 6, allowing life imprisonment for the remainder of natural life, was brought after the crime was committed.

With regard to the offence committed under Section 376, however, the amendment took place before the crime was committed.

Thus, the bench observed that the very purpose of not imposing life imprisonment for the remainder of appellant-accused’s life for the offence under Section 376A of IPC would be frustrated if it confirms life imprisonment under sections 376(2)(i) and 376(2)(m) of IPC and section 5 (i) and 5 (m) read with section 6 of POCSO Act.   The bench agreed with Marlapalle that the court had earlier consciously imposed the sentence of 20 years for the offence under Section 376A for the reasons stated in the judgment.

In the judgement authored by Justice Trivedi, the Supreme Court accordingly modified its earlier order and imposed rigorous imprisonment of 20 years for the three other offences, to run concurrently with the sentence imposed under Section 376A IPC.

The order in the review case is available here.