Life imprisonment is to be interpreted as being imprisonment for the whole of a convict’s natural life, the minimum term of imprisonment in respect of an offence where death is one of the punishments provided by law or where a death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment sentence, has been prescribed as 14 years.
‘Imprisonment for life’ has been repeatedly held to mean imprisonment for the natural life term of a prisoner, though the actual period of imprisonment may be reduced by virtue of remissions earned by the empowered authorities. But unless the President, under Article 72 of the Constitution, or the Governor, under Article 161 of the Constitution, exercises his power even with remissions earned life imprisonment cannot be reduced below 14 years. It is, therefore, left to the discretion of the empowered authorities to decide the actual length of imprisonment having regard to the gravity of the offence.
Life imprisonment is a sentence of imprisonment for a serious crime under which the convicted person is to remain in jail for the rest of his or her life. There is always a debate as to the exact duration of imprisonment of life. This article purports to analyse the law in India relating to life imprisonment through study of various statutes and case- laws prevalent in India.
Section 55, I.P.C. provides that when sentence of imprisonment for life has been passed, the appropriate Government may without the consent of the prisoner commute the punishment for imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding fourteen years. But this section does not lay down that life imprisonment shall be an imprisonment for fourteen years only and a prisoner will be automatically released after the expiry of fourteen years of imprisonment. It is for the appropriate Government to commute the sentence and for this purpose Rules have been framed by the State Government.
Section 57 of I.P.C. provides that in calculating fractions of terms of imprisonment, imprisonment for life shall be reckoned as equivalent to imprisonment for 20 years. But again Section 57 does not say that imprisonment for life shall be deemed to be transportation for 20 years only. For all purposes, imprisonment for life must, prima facie, be treated as imprisonment for whole of the remaining period of the convicted person’s natural life.
Section 432 Cr.P.C – Power to suspend or remit sentences.
(1) When any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offence, the appropriate Government may, at any time, without conditions or upon any conditions that the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced.
Section 433 Cr.P.C- Power to commute sentence.
The appropriate Government may, without the consent of the person-sentenced commute –
A sentence of death, for any other punishment provided by the Indian Penal Code, 1860;
A sentence of imprisonment for life, for imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years or for fine;
A sentence of rigorous imprisonment for simple imprisonment for any term to which that person might have been sentenced, or sentenced, or for fine;
A sentence of simple imprisonment, for fine.
Section 433A Cr.P.C :- Restriction on powers of remission or commutation in certain cases.
The appropriate Government has power under Sections 432 and 433, Cr. P.C. to suspend or remit or commute the sentence while Section 433A of Cr. P.C. imposes restrictions on the powers of remission or commutation in certain cases.
Under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the appropriate Government has the power to remit the whole or any part of sentence to which the person is convicted. Under Section 433 of the Code, the appropriate Government has the power to commute the sentence of imprisonment for life to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen year or to a fine. Section 433A was enacted to deny premature release before completion of 14 years of actual incarceration to such convicts who stand convicted of a capital offence.
Gopal Vinayak Godse v. The State of Maharashtra and Ors.
It was held by a Constitution Bench that the meaning of a sentence of imprisonment for life must, prima facie, be treated as imprisonment for the whole of the remaining period of the convicted person’s natural life. It was further held that unless the said sentence is commuted or remitted by appropriate authority under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code or the Cr.P.C. a prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment is bound in law to serve the life term in prison.