A quick look into three most significant criminal law judgments (from this year) authored by Hon’ble Justice Madan B Lokur .

M A Antony@ Antappan v. State of Kerala

Case No: Review Petition (Crl) No. 245/10

Issue: Consideration of socio-economic factors while awarding a sentence.

There is no doubt that the socio-economic factors relating to a convict should be taken into consideration for the purposes of deciding whether to award life sentence or death sentence. One of the reasons for this is the perception (perhaps misplaced) that it is only convicts belonging to the poor and disadvantaged sections of society that are awarded capital sentence while others are not. Although Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab[1] does not allude to socio-economic factors for being taken into consideration as one of the mitigating factors in favour of a convict, the development of the law in the country, particularly through the Supreme Court, has introduced this as one of the factors to be taken into consideration. In fact, in Bachan Singh the Supreme Court recognised that a range of factors exist and could be taken into consideration and accepted this position.

Socio-economic factors must be taken into consideration while awarding a sentence particularly the ground realities relating to access to justice and remedies to justice that are not easily available to the poor and the needy.

The consideration of socio-economic factors is tied up with another important issue (which need not necessarily or always be taken into consideration for sentencing purposes, but could be relevant in a given case) and that is whether the convict has had adequate legal representation. Several accused persons belonging to the weaker sections of society cannot afford defence counsel and they are obliged to turn to the National Legal Services Authority, the State Legal Services Authority or the District Legal Services Committee for legal representation. While these authorities provide the best legal assistance possible at their command, it sometimes falls short of expectations resulting in the conviction of an accused and, depending upon the facts of the case and the sentencing process followed, a sentence of death follows.

Rajendra Prahladrao Wasnik v. State of Maharashtra

Case No. Review Petition(Crl) 306-307/13

Issue: Whether prior history of the convict or criminal antecedents can be a ground for awarding death sentence.

The history of the convict, including recidivism cannot, by itself, be a ground for awarding the death sentence. This needs some clarity. There could be a situation where a convict has previously committed an offence and has been convicted and sentenced for that offence. Thereafter, the convict commits a second offence for which he is convicted and sentence is required to be awarded. This does not pose any legal challenge or difficulty. But, there could also be a situation where a convict has committed an offence and is under trial for that offence. During the pendency of the trial he commits a second offence for which he is convicted and in which sentence is required to be awarded.

Sections 54 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 prohibits the use of previous bad character evidence except when the convict himself chooses to lead evidence of his good character. The implication of this clearly is that the past adverse conduct of the convict ought not to be taken into consideration for the purposes of determining the quantum of sentence, except in specified circumstances.

Take Away:

mere pendency of one or more criminal cases against a convict cannot be a factor for consideration while awarding a sentence. Not only is it statutorily impermissible (except in some cases) but even otherwise it violates the fundamental presumption of innocence – a human right – that everyone is entitled to.

Mallikarjun Kodagali (Dead) represented v State of Karnataka & Ors.

Case No: Criminal Appeal No 1281-82/2018

Topic in Discussion: Sec 372 CrPC and Victim’s right to appeal.

Section 372: No appeal to lie unless otherwise provided

No appeal shall lie from any judgment or order of a Criminal Court except as provided for by this Code or by any other law for the time being in force.

Provided that the victim shall have a right to prefer an appeal against any order passed by the Court acquitting the accused or convicting for a lesser offence or imposing inadequate compensation, and such appeal shall lie to the Court to which an appeal ordinarily lies against the order of conviction of such Court.

Court Held:

The proviso to Section 372 of the Cr.P.C. must also be given a meaning that is realistic, liberal, progressive and beneficial to the victim of an offence. There is a historical reason for this, beginning with the Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in the 96th Plenary Session on 29th November, 1985. The Declaration is sometimes referred to as the Magna Carta of the rights of victims. One of the significant declarations made was in relation to access to justice for the victim of an offence through the justice delivery mechanisms, both formal and informal.

It is quite obvious that the victim of an offence is entitled to a variety of rights. Access to mechanisms of justice and redress through formal procedures as provided for in national legislation, must include the right to file an appeal against an order of acquittal (in a case such as the one presently concerned with). Considered in this light, there is no doubt that the proviso to Section 372 of the Cr.P.C. must be given life, to benefit the victim of an offence.

The language of the proviso to Section 372 of the Cr.P.C. is quite clear, particularly when it is contrasted with the language of Section 378(4) of the Cr.P.C. The text of this provision is quite clear and it is confined to an order of acquittal passed in a case instituted upon a complaint. The word ‘complaint’ has been defined in Section 2(d) of the Cr.P.C. and refers to any allegation made orally or in writing to a Magistrate. This has nothing to do with the lodging or the registration of an FIR, and therefore it is not at all necessary to consider the effect of a victim being the complainant as far as the proviso to Section 372 of the Cr.P.C. is concerned.

[1] (1980) 2 SCC 684.

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