The recent judgment of Patna High Court denying an appeal on the grounds of the inadequacy of sentence against an order of sentence passed in the case of brutal rape and consequent murder of a minor girl child, has unfurled various discussions as to why such an appeal by the victim has been denied and what’s the law behind denying any challenge pertaining to the adequacy of a sentence, especially in relation to the gut-wrenching offence of rape and murder. Answers to such questions require an understanding of the law in concern and the interpretation as considered by the court.

In the Indian Criminal justice system, a victim can file an appeal against an order of sentence of a criminal court on specific grounds as under section 372 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The right to appeal as against any order of a criminal court can be exercised in different capacities and when it is exercised in the capacity of a ‘victim’, as per the definition under section 2 (wa) of the CrPC, it falls under the statutory ambit of section 372 of the CrPC.

Interestingly, initially, section 372 of the CrPC merely provided for ‘appeals’ and only prescribed that no appeal shall lie from any order or judgment of a criminal court except for what is provided for in the code of procedure or by any other law which is in force, but by the Act 5 of 2009, with effect from 31.12.2009, a specific ‘right’ had been conferred to the victim for filing such an appeal, enshrining the same in the proviso of section 372 of the CrPC.

The concerning proviso reads as follows:

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.

The bare perusal of the proviso specifies that there are specific ‘grounds’ on which a victim can file an appeal against such an order of sentence which can be identified in specific circumstances, them being:

  1. an acquittal of the accused;
  2. the conviction of the accused for a lesser offence; or,
  3. in case of imposition of inadequate compensation.

The statutory provision as under section 372, along with its proviso, does not provide for the ground of inadequacy of sentence for filing an appeal by a victim against an order of sentence.

This limitation, however, does not mean that there are no provisions in place to challenge an order of sentence pertaining to the inadequacy of sentence by a criminal court. Against an inadequate sentence, an appeal can be filed by the State Government seeking enhancement of sentence as under section 377 of the CrPC thereby providing an outlet for such challenge but to the State government and not to the victim.

The Supreme Court, in the landmark case of National Commission of Women v. State of Delhi & Anr., interpreted that the proviso in concern as under section 372 of CrPC, gives a limited right to the victim to file an appeal in the High Court against any order of a criminal court acquitting the accused or convicting him for a lesser offence or the imposition of inadequate compensation. The court expressly held that the provision would confer a right only on a victim and also does not envisage an appeal against an inadequate sentence. An appeal would thus be maintainable only under Section 377 CrPC to the High Court when it is effectively challenging the quantum of sentence.

The Supreme Court also clarified that when an appeal in concern with inadequacy of sentence is in place, the High Court shall not enhance the sentence except after giving to the accused a reasonable opportunity of showing cause against such enhancement and while showing cause, the accused may plead for the acquittal or for the reduction of the sentence.

Hence, while understanding the right to appeal as provided in section 372, it is evident that the grounds so iterated are limited to circumstantial situations, like that of (a) an acquittal of the accused; (b) the conviction of the accused of a lesser offence; or, (c) in case of imposition of inadequate compensation., only and need to be kept in mind while filing such an appeal.

In the judgment of Patna High court, the appeal had been dismissed on the same grounds as the father of the deceased filed an appeal as a victim against the inadequacy of sentence, erroneously as under section 372 of the CrPC, thereby dismissal.

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