Punishment should take into account impact of crime: SC

In what could give a legal validation to severe punishments in cases with grave "social consequences", the Supreme Court has ruled that "punishment should acknowledge the sanctity of human life" and hence not just an act but its result must weigh heavy while ascertaining adequate penalty.

Sending across a strong message to all trial courts to take note of the impact of a crime on the society and its people while meting out jail terms to offenders, the apex court has held that the amongst various factors to determine the appropriate punishment, "proportionality and deterrence" must be the "most prominent" ones.

"The question of consequences of criminal action can be relevant from both a proportionality and deterrence standpoint. Insofar as proportionality is concerned, the sentence must be commensurate with the seriousness or gravity of the offence. One of the factors relevant for judging seriousness of the offence is the consequences resulting from it," held a Bench led by Justice Aftab Alam.

Referring to various theories of sentencing and legal precedents in cases ranging from negligent driving to drug trafficking, the Bench was of the opinion that punishments cannot remain a mere sequel to the statute book. The discretion with a court must be exercised within the limits of law to deliver such punishments, which are proportional to the impacts of a crime on the society as a whole. The Bench also lamented absence of proper guidelines to help trial courts decide the quantum of punishments under different offences and described this as the "weakest" part of the system.

The court also referred to a previous judgments that had highlighted the same problem while noting that some committees like Madhava Menon Committee and Malimath Committee had also advocated introduction of sentencing guidelines. In the absence of such clear cut directions, the apex court said, the only guidelines trial courts had was in the form of case laws and decisions of the higher courts in several cases.

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