Punishment; 8 Important Supreme Court Judgments

The object of punishment has been succinctly stated in Halsbury’s Laws of England (4th Edn, Vol. 11, Para 482), thus:

Object of Punishment

The aims of punishment are now considered to be retribution, justice, deterrence, reformation and protection and modern sentencing policy reflects a combination of several or all of these aims. The retributive element is intended to show public revulsion to the offence and to punish the offender for his wrong conduct. The concept of justice as an aim of punishment means both that the punishment should fit the offence and also that like offences should receive similar punishments.

An increasingly important aspect of punishment is deterrence and sentences are aimed at deterring not only the actual offender from further offences but also potential offenders from breaking the law. The importance of reformation of the offender is shown by the growing emphasis laid upon it by much modern legislation, but judicial opinion towards this particular aim is varied and rehabilitation will not usually be accorded precedence over deterrence.

The main aim of punishment in judicial thought, however, is still the protection of society and the other objects frequently receive only secondary consideration when sentences are being decided.

Supreme Court on Punishment

1. Shyam Narain Vs. State (NCT of Delhi), (2013) 7 SCC 77

Primarily it is to be borne in mind that sentencing for any offence has a social goal. Sentence is to be imposed regard being had to the nature of the offence and the manner in which the offence has been committed. The fundamental purpose of imposition of sentence is based on the principle that the accused must realise that the crime committed by him has not only created a dent in his life but also a concavity in the social fabric.

The purpose of just punishment is designed so that the individuals in the society which ultimately constitute the collective do not suffer time and again for such crimes. It serves as a deterrent. True it is, on certain occasions, opportunities may be granted to the convict for reforming himself but it is equally true that the principle of proportionality between an offence committed and the penalty imposed are to be kept in view.

While carrying out this complex exercise, it is obligatory on the part of the court to see the impact of the offence on the society as a whole and its ramifications on the immediate collective as well as its repercussions on the victim.

2. Jameel Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, 2010 (12) SCC 532

It is the duty of every court to award proper sentence having regard to the nature of the offence and the manner in which it was executed or committed. The sentencing courts are expected to consider all relevant facts and circumstances bearing on the question of sentence and proceed to impose a sentence commensurate with the gravity of the offence.

3. Shailesh Jasvantbhai v. State of Gujarat, (2006) 2 SCC 359

Friedman in his Law in Changing Society stated: ‘State of criminal law continues to be – as it should be – a decisive reflection of social consciousness of society.’ Therefore, in operating the sentencing system, law should adopt the corrective machinery or deterrence based on factual matrix. By deft modulation, sentencing process be stern where it should be, and tempered with mercy where it warrants to be. The facts and given circumstances in each case, the nature of the crime, the manner in which it was planned and committed, the motive for commission of the crime, the conduct of the accused, the nature of weapons used and all other attending circumstances are relevant facts which would enter into the area of consideration.

4. State of MP v. Babulal, (2013) 12 SCC 308

While delineating about the adequacy of sentence, have expressed thus: Punishment is the sanction imposed on the offender for the infringement of law committed by him. Once a person is tried for commission of an offence and found guilty by a competent court, it is the duty of the court to impose on him such sentence as is prescribed by law. The award of sentence is consequential on and incidental to conviction. The law does not envisage a person being convicted for an offence without a sentence being imposed therefor.

5. Gopal Singh v. State of Uttarakhand, (2013) 7 SCC 545

While dealing with the philosophy of just punishment which is the collective cry of the society, a two ­Judge Bench has stated that just punishment would be dependent on the facts of the case and rationalised judicial discretion. Neither the personal perception of a Judge nor self­ adhered moralistic vision nor hypothetical apprehensions should be allowed to have any play.

For every offence, a drastic measure cannot be thought of. Similarly, an offender cannot be allowed to be treated with leniency solely on the ground of discretion vested in a court. The real requisite is to weigh the circumstances in which the crime has been committed and other concomitant factors.

Just punishment is the collective cry of the society. While the collective cry has to be kept uppermost in the mind, simultaneously the principle of proportionality between the crime and punishment cannot be totally brushed aside. The principle of just punishment is the bedrock of sentencing in respect of a criminal offence

6. Ahmed Hussein Vali Mohammed Saiyed Vs. State of Gujrat, (2009) 7 SCC 254

Any liberal attitude by imposing meager sentences or taking too sympathetic view merely on account of lapse of time in respect of such offences will be result-wise counter productive in the long run and against the interest of society which needs to be cared for and strengthened by string of deterrence inbuilt in the sentencing system.

7. Guru Basavaraj @ Benne Settapa Vs. State of Karnataka, (2012) 8 SCC 734

The cry of the collective for justice, which includes adequate punishment cannot be lightly ignored.

8. Hazara Singh Vs. Raj Kumar, (2013) 9 SCC 516

Undue sympathy to impose inadequate sentence would do more harm to the justice system to undermine the public confidence in the efficacy of law. It is the duty of every court to award proper sentence having regard to the nature of the offence and the manner in which it was executed or committed. The Court must not only keep in view the rights of the victim of the crime but also the society at large while considering the imposition of appropriate punishment.

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