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Benefit of probation under PF Act is not excluded by mandatory minimum sentence under S.397 of IPC

Singh etc. v. The State of Punjab & Anr.

Criminal Appeal Nos. 47-48 of 2021 [Arising out of SLP (Crl) Nos.6283-6284/2020]

Decided on January 19, 2020.

The present case was decided by a division bench of the Supreme Court consisting of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy.

On 14.02.2003, the appellants along with co-accused Gurpreet Singh approached the complainant- PW1 to hire a taxi to go to a village. Enroute, Gurpreet Singh caught hold of the complainant and the appellants inflicted injuries on PW1’s forehead, abdomen and on his neck using a knife. The complainant was thrown out of his taxi and the three people fled with the taxi. In pursuance to the reporting of the crime by complainant, an FIR was registered on 15.02.2003 under Section 382 and Section 307 read with Section 34 IPC. The trial Court framed charges under Section 397 IPC and the appellants were convicted by the trial Court vide judgment dated 8.1.2005 and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment of 7 years each.

The appeal preferred by the appellants has been dismissed by the impugned judgment dated 24.10.2019. The appellants approached this Court by a SLP. A compromise deed was arrived at between the complainant Amrik Singh and the appellants, where the complainant has stated that he did not want to pursue any action against the appellants and has no objection to their release on bail or acquittal. The appellants have already served about 50% of their sentence while in custody.

On 18.12.2020, counsel for the State and respondent no. 2 entered appearance and counsel for respondent no.2 confirmed that the dispute had been amicably resolved.

However, counsel for respondent no.1 submitted that the minimum sentence provided by the statute under Section 397 is 7 years and the same cannot be reduced below that period. On this submission, learned counsel for the appellants sought benefit under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 (hereinafter ‘the Act’). It is on the aforesaid aspect that on 11.01.2021, this Court granted leave and reserved the judgment upon conclusion of arguments and the parties having filed their respective synopsis.

The contentions of the learned counsel for the State is based on the judgment of this Court in the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v. Vikram Das, (2019) 4 SCC 125, opining that courts cannot impose less than the minimum sentence prescribed by the statute. He pleaded for continuing detention of the appellants to serve out the remaining sentence. On the other hand, learned counsel for the appellants has sought the benefit under the said Act in view of the age of the appellants when the offence was committed, i.e. 20 and 19 years at the time.

At the onset, the Court observed:

We may notice that the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the said Act explains the rationale for the enactment and its amendments: to give the benefit of release of offenders on probation of good conduct instead of sentencing them to imprisonment. Thus, increasing emphasis on the reformation and rehabilitation of offenders as useful and self-reliant members of society without subjecting them to the deleterious effects of jail life is what is sought to be subserved. (Para 6)

The Court stated that Section 6 of the Act would not come to their aid:

In the facts of the present case, the appellants are stated to be below 21 years of age as on the date of offence. The sentencing order was passed by the trial Court noting that the appellants committed an offence of serious nature against a poor person and were thus disentitled from the benefits under the said Act or under Section 360 Cr.P.C. (Para 7)

The Court noted that Section 4 of the Act could come to the aid of the appellants:

We may also note that the “notwithstanding” contained in Section 4 permits, despite anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, the court to release a person on bond, with or without sureties, for a period of 3 years instead of sentencing him in order to ensure that he keeps peace and good behaviour. In this regard, under sub-section (2), before making any order under sub-section (1), the court is required to take into consideration the report, if any, of the probation officer concerned in relation to the case. (Para 8)

The Court considered a number of judgments and viewed:

We are of the view that the corollary to the aforesaid legal decisions ends with a conclusion that the benefit of probation under the said Act is not excluded by the provisions of the mandatory minimum sentence under Section 397 of IPC, the offence in the present case. (Para 13)

Importantly, the Court held:

The redeeming feature in their case is that the person who suffered, appears to have forgiven them, possibly with the passage of time. There is no adverse report against them about their conduct in jail otherwise the same would have been brought to our notice by learned counsel for the State. Faced with the aforesaid legal position, this is a fit case that the benefit of probation can be extended to the appellants under the said act in view of the provisions of Section 4 of the said Act on completion of half the sentence. (Para 14)

The Court released the appellants on probation of good conduct under Section 4 of the Act on their completion of half the sentence and on their entering into a bond with two sureties each to ensure that they maintain peace and good behaviour for the remaining part of their sentence, failing which they can be called upon to serve that part of the sentence.

The Court disposed the appeals in the above terms.

Jhanavi M.



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