Trial Court cannot direct sentence of life imprisonment for remainder of natural life: Supreme Court of India

A trial court while sentencing an accused to life imprisonment cannot order that such imprisonment is for the remainder of his/her natural life; only High Courts and the Supreme Court have the power to direct the same. Supreme Court of India bench including Hon’ble Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice Ajay Rastogi gave the judgment in the case of Gauri Shankar vs. State of Punjab [Criminal Appeal no. 135 of 2021] while stating the above-cited reasons.

In the instant case, the appellant was accused of murdering two minor children of the complainant; for which he was being convicted for offences u/s 302 of the Indian Penal Code by the Trial Court which was later upheld by the High Court too. According to the facts of the present case, the complainant and her two children lived with the accused but were not related to each other. The accused-appellant was not happy living with the children and hence, used to beat them daily. One day, when the complainant was not home, the accused gave poison to both the kids, as a result of which they died. The statement of the accused-appellant was recorded under   Section 313 CrPC where he denied having committed the crime but did not lead any evidence in defence. Considering the facts, the Trial Court judge had held the appellant guilty for offence u/s 302 of IPC and punished him with imprisonment for life which would mean the remainder of natural life.

When the matter reached the Supreme Court, the learned counsel of the appellant argued that in both the proceedings before the Trial Court and the High Court that no reasonable opportunity for cross-examination was given to them u/s 230 CrPC. Relying on the judgments of Union of India Vs. V. Sriharan @ Murugan and   Others 2016(7) SCC 1, the counsel had also argued that the Trial Court does not have the power to direct the life imprisonment for the remainder of natural life; only High Courts and Supreme Court can do that.

The Court agreed to the above-cited statement of the appellant’s counsel. But considering the heinous offence committed by the appellant, Supreme Court upheld the decision of the trial court and stated that “It is true that the punishment of remainder of natural life could not have been imposed by the learned trial Judge but after looking into the entire case, we consider it appropriate to confirm the sentence of imprisonment for life to mean the remainder of natural life while upholding the conviction under Section 302 IPC”. Hence, the appeal was dismissed.

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