SC: Punishment for Murder is Either “Death Penalty” or “Life Imprisonment”


March 27, 2018

Case name: BharatKumar Rameshchandra Barot v. The State of Gujarat


Date of Judgement: March 26, 2018

In this instant case, the Supreme Court made a scathing attack on quantum of punishment awarded by the Sessions Judge to appellant for the offence of murder committed by him. The Apex Court in the case has categorically stated that the punishment for offence of murder is either “death penalty” or “life imprisonment”.

Brief Facts- In this case, the Appeal was preferred by the accused against the order passed by the High Court of Gujarat. In the case, the accused who was convicted for offence under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code  i.e. for murder was awarded punishment of 10 years rigorous imprisonment by the Sessions Judge.

The State aggrieved by the lesser punishment of 10 years for offence of murder appealed against the same in the High Court under Section 377 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The High Court enhanced the sentence imposed on the appellant (accused) by the Trial Court from 10 years rigorous imprisonment to imprisonment for life. Aggrieved by enhancement of punishment, the Appellant approached the Supreme Court contending that he was deprived of his right to oppose the appeal and also his right to urge the grounds for his acquittal as provided under Section 377(3) of the Code.

Bench’s Verdict

The Supreme Court in the case dismissed the appeal on the following grounds:

Requirements under Section 377 of CrPC

What does Section 377 of CrPC say?

Section 377 of CrPC provides for appeal by the State Government against sentence by any Court other than High Court. Further Section 377(3) of CrPC states that when an appeal has been filed against the sentence on the ground of its inadequacy, the Court shall not enhance the punishment without giving the accused reasonable opportunity of presenting his case.

  • That in the case the High Court served dasti notice to the appellant. The notice of the appeal was, therefore, duly served on the appellant. In other words, it was also not the case of the appellant that he was not served or had no knowledge of filing of the appeal by the State against him or there was any infirmity in effecting service of notice of appeal which rendered the proceedings in appeal as bad in law.
  • That despite notice having been served personally on the appellant, he did not appear. Though, the appellant had an independent right of appeal but he did not file any regular appeal questioning the legality of the order of the Sessions Judge convicting him for commission of the offence of murder. Thus, the High Court ensured compliance with Section 377(3)of the Code.
  • That the object of Section 377 of CrPC is that when the State files an appeal seeking enhancement of jail sentence awarded by the Sessions Judge, the jail sentence cannot be enhanced unless the accused is given an opportunity to defend it. The accused is also entitled to pray for his acquittal or award of lesser punishment. If the accused, after service of notice fails to raise this plea then the High Court would be justified in deciding the State’s appeal on merits which is confined to only for enhancement of jail sentence.

Enhancement of Punishment by the High Court

  • The Supreme Court concurred with the enhancement of punishment by the High Court and expressed anguish on how could Sessions Judge award only 10 years’ jail sentence to the appellant for commission of offence of murder punishable under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code.
  • That once Sessions Judge found the appellant guilty for commission of the offence of the murder punishable under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code, the only punishment that can be awarded in law is either the “death penalty” or “imprisonment for life” and the “fine”.
  • That Section 302 of Indian Penal Code, in clear terms, provides that “whoever commits murder shall be punished with “death” or “imprisonment for life” and shall also be liable to “fine”.
  • That any punishment less than the life imprisonment, as prescribed under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code, if awarded by any Court is per se illegal and without authority of law. Indeed, there is no such discretion left with the Court in awarding the punishment except to award the punishment which is prescribed under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code.

The entire case can be accessed here.