Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Whether consecutive life sentences can be awarded to a convict guilty of multiple murders in a single trial?.


 In conclusion our answer to the question is in the
negative. We hold that while multiple sentences for
imprisonment for life can be awarded for multiple murders or
other offences punishable with imprisonment for life, the life
sentences so awarded cannot be directed to run consecutively.
Such sentences would, however, be super imposed over each
other so that any remission or commutation granted by the
competent authority in one does not ipso facto result in
remission of the sentence awarded to the prisoner for the other.
REPORTABLE
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION
CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS.231-233 OF 2009
MUTHURAMALINGAM & ORS. ...APPELLANT(S)
VERSUS
STATE REP. BY INSP. OF POLICE ...RESPONDENT(S)
Dated:July 19, 2016
Citation:AIR 2016 SC 3340

1. A Bench comprising three-Judges of this Court has
referred to us the following short but interesting question:
“Whether consecutive life sentences can be
awarded to a convict on being found guilty of a
series of murders for which he has been tried in a
single trial?.”

2. The question arises in the following circumstances:
3. The appellants were tried for several offences including
an offence punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal
Code, 1860 (for short, “the IPC”) for several murders allegedly
committed by them in a single incident. They were found
guilty and sentenced to suffer varying sentences, including a
sentence of imprisonment for life for each one of the murders
committed by them. What is important is that the sentence of
imprisonment for life for each one of the murders was directed
to run consecutively. The result was that the appellants were
to undergo consecutive life sentences ranging between two to
eight such sentences depending upon the number of murders
committed by them. Criminal appeals preferred against the
conviction and the award of consecutive life sentences having
failed, the appellants have filed the present appeals to assail
the judgments and orders passed by the courts below.
4. When the appeals came up for hearing before a
three-Judge Bench of this Court, learned counsel for the
appellant appears to have confined his challenge to the validity
of the direction issued by the Trial Court and affirmed by the

High Court that the sentences of imprisonment for life
awarded to each one of the appellants for several murders
allegedly committed by them would run consecutively and not
concurrently. It was argued that in terms of Section 31 of the
Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (for short, “the Cr.P.C.”) the
sentence of life imprisonment awarded to the appellants for
different murders alleged to have been committed by them
could run concurrently and not consecutively as ordered by
the Trial Court and the High Court. Reliance in support of that
submission was placed upon a decision of a three-Judge
Bench of this Court in O.M. Cherian @ Thankachan vs. State of
Kerala & Ors., (2015) 2 SCC 501 and a three-Judge Bench
decision of this Court in Duryodhan Rout vs. State of Orissa
(2015) 2 SCC 783.
5. On behalf of the respondent – State of Tamil Nadu,
reliance appears to have been placed upon two other decisions
of this Court in Kamalanantha and Ors. vs. State of Tamil
Nadu, (2005) 5 SCC 194 and Sanaullah Khan vs. State of
Bihar, (2013) 3 SCC 52 to argue that it was legally permissible
to award more than one life sentence to a convict for different

murders committed by him with a direction that the sentences
so awarded shall run consecutively. The Bench hearing the
appeal noticing a conflict in the views taken by this Court on
the question whether consecutive life sentences were legally
permissible, directed the matter to be placed before a larger
bench comprising Five Judges to resolve the conflict by an
authoritative pronouncement. That is precisely how these
appeals have been placed before us for an authoritative
pronouncement.
6. We have heard learned counsel for the parties at
considerable length. Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. which deals with
sentences in cases of conviction of several offences at one trial
runs as under :
“31. Sentences in cases of conviction of several offences
at one trial.
(1) When a person is convicted at one trial of two or
more offences, the Court may, subject to the provisions
of section 71 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860),
sentence him for such offences, to the several
punishments prescribed therefor which such Court is
competent to inflict; such punishments when consisting
of imprisonment to commence the one after the
expiration of the other in such order as the Court may
direct, unless the Court directs that such punishments
shall run concurrently.
(2) In the case of consecutive sentences, it shall not be
necessary for the Court by reason only of the aggregate
punishment for the several offences being in excess of

the punishment which it is competent to inflict on
conviction of a single offence, to send the offender for
trial before a higher Court: Provided that-
(a) in no case shall such person be sentenced to
imprisonment for longer period than fourteen
years;
(b) the aggregate punishment shall not exceed
twice the amount of punishment which the Court
is competent to inflict for a single offence.
(3) For the purpose of appeal by a convicted person, the
aggregate of the consecutive sentences passed against
him under this section shall be deemed to be a single
sentence.”
7. A careful reading of the above would show that the
provision is attracted only in cases where two essentials are
satisfied viz. (1) a person is convicted at one trial and (2) the
trial is for two or more offences. It is only when both these
conditions are satisfied that the Court can sentence the
offender to several punishments prescribed for the offences
committed by him provided the Court is otherwise competent
to impose such punishments. What is significant is that such
punishments as the Court may decide to award for several
offences committed by the convict when comprising
imprisonment shall commence one after the expiration of the
other in such order as the Court may direct unless the Court
in its discretion orders that such punishment shall run
concurrently. Sub-section (2) of Section 31 on a plain reading
makes it unnecessary for the Court to send the offender for

trial before a higher Court only because the aggregate
punishment for several offences happens to be in excess of the
punishment which such Court is competent to award provided
always that in no case can the person so sentenced be
imprisoned for a period longer than 14 years and the aggregate
punishment does not exceed twice the punishment which the
court is competent to inflict for a single offence. Interpreting
Section 31(1), a three-Judge Bench of this Court in O.M.
Cherian’s case (supra) declared that if two life sentences are
imposed on a convict the Court must necessarily direct those
sentences to run concurrently. The Court said:
“Section 31(1) CrPC enjoins a further direction by the
court to specify the order in which one particular
sentence shall commence after the expiration of the
other. Difficulties arise when the courts impose
sentence of imprisonment for life and also sentences of
imprisonment for fixed term. In such cases, if the court
does not direct that the sentences shall run
concurrently, then the sentences will run consecutively
by operation of Section 31(1) CrPC. There is no question
of the convict first undergoing the sentence of
imprisonment for life and thereafter undergoing the rest
of the sentences of imprisonment for fixed term and any
such direction would be unworkable. Since sentence of
imprisonment for life means jail till the end of normal
life of the convict, the sentence of imprisonment of fixed
term has to necessarily run concurrently with life
imprisonment. In such case, it will be in order if the
Sessions Judges exercise their discretion in issuing
direction for concurrent running of sentences. Likewise
if two life sentences are imposed on the convict,
necessarily, the court has to direct those sentences to
run concurrently.”
6Page 7
8. To the same effect is the decision of a two-Judge Bench
of this Court in Duryodhan Rout’s case (supra) in which this
Court took the view that since life imprisonment means
imprisonment of full span of life there was no question of
awarding consecutive sentences in case of conviction for
several offences at one trial. Relying upon the proviso to
sub-Section (2) of Section 31, this Court held that where a
person is convicted for several offences including one for which
life sentences can be awarded the proviso to Section 31(2)
shall forbid running of such sentences consecutively.
9. It would appear from the above two pronouncements that
the logic behind life sentences not running consecutively lies
in the fact that imprisonment for life implies imprisonment till
the end of the normal life of the convict. If that proposition is
sound, the logic underlying the ratio of the decisions of this
Court in O.M. Cherian and Duryodhan Rout cases (supra)
would also be equally sound. What then needs to be examined
is whether imprisonment for life does indeed imply
imprisonment till the end of the normal life of the convict as
observed in O.M. Cherian and Duryodhan Rout’s cases (supra).
7Page 8
That question, in our considered opinion, is no longer res
integra, the same having been examined and answered in the
affirmative by a long line of decisions handed down by this
Court. We may gainfully refer to some of those decisions at
this stage.
10. In Gopal Vinayak Godse vs. State of Maharashtra, (1961)
3 SCR 440 a Constitution Bench of this Court held that a
prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment was bound to serve
the remainder of his life in prison unless the sentence is
commuted or remitted by the appropriate authority. Such a
sentence could not be equated with a fixed term.
11. In Dalabir Singh vs. State of Punjab, (1979) 3 SCC 745 a
three-Judge Bench of this Court observed:
“….life imprisonment strictly means imprisonment for
the whole of the man's life, but in practice amounts to
incarceration for a period between 10 and 14 years
which may, at the option of the convicting court, be
subject to the condition that the sentence of
imprisonment shall last as long as life lasts where there
are exceptional indications of murderous recidivism and
the community cannot run the risk of the convict being
at large.”

12. Again in State of Punjab vs. Joginder Singh (1992) 2 SCC
661, this Court held that if the sentence is ‘imprisonment for
8Page 9
life’ the convict has to pass the remainder of his life under
imprisonment unless of course he is granted remission by a
competent authority in exercise of the powers vested in it
under Sections 432 and 433 of the Cr.P.C.
13. In Maru Ram vs. Union of India and Ors. (1981) 1 SCC
107 also this Court following Godse’s case (supra) held that
imprisonment for life lasts until last breath of the prisoner and
whatever the length of remissions earned the prisoner could
claim release only if the remaining sentences is remitted by
the Government. The Court observed:
“We follow Godse's case to hold that imprisonment for
life lasts until the last breath and whatever the length
of remission earned the prisoner can claim release only
if the remaining sentence is remitted by the
Government.”

14. In Ashok Kumar @ Golu vs. Union of India (1991) 3 SCC
498, this Court had yet another occasion to examine the true
meaning and purport of expression “imprisonment for life” and
declared that when read in the light of Section 45 of the IPC
the said expression would ordinarily mean the full and
complete span of life. The following passage in this regard is
apposite:
9Page 10
“12. xxx
The expression ‘imprisonment for life’ must be
read in the context of Section 45, IPC. Under that
provision the word ‘life’ denotes the life of a human
being unless the contrary appears from the context. We
have seen that the punishments are set out in Section
53, imprisonment for life being one of them. Read in the
light of Section 45 it would ordinarily mean
imprisonment for the full or complete span of life. …..”
15. To the same effect is the decision of this Court in the
case of Laxman Naskar vs. Union of India, (2000) 2 SCC 595
where this Court held that life sentence is nothing less than
lifelong imprisonment although by earning remission, the life
convict could pray for pre-mature release before completing 20
years of imprisonment including remissions earned.
16. Reference may also be made to the decisions of this
Court in Subash Chander vs. Krishan Lal, (2001) 4 SCC 458,
Shri Bhagwan vs. State of Rajasthan, (2001) 6 SCC 296 and
Swamy Shraddananda vs. State of Karnataka, (2008) 13 SCC
767 which too reiterate the legal position settled by the earlier
mentioned decisions of this Court. A recent Constitution
Bench decision of this Court in Union of India vs. Sriharan,
2015 (13) SCALE 165 also had another occasion to review the
case law on the subject. Relying upon the decisions of this
10Page 11
Court in Sambhaji Krishna, Ratan Singh, Maru Ram and Ranjit
Singh’s cases (supra) this Court observed:
“It is quite apparent that this Court by stating as above
has affirmed the legal position that the life
imprisonment only means the entirety of the life unless
it is curtailed by remissions validly granted under the
Code of Criminal Procedure by the Appropriate
Government or Under Articles 72 and 161 of the
Constitution by the Executive Head viz., the President
or the Governor of the State, respectively.”
17. The legal position is, thus, fairly well settled that
imprisonment for life is a sentence for the remainder of the life
of the offender unless of course the remaining sentence is
commuted or remitted by the competent authority. That being
so, the provisions of Section 31 under Cr.P.C. must be so
interpreted as to be consistent with the basic tenet that a life
sentence requires the prisoner to spend the rest of his life in
prison. Any direction that requires the offender to undergo
imprisonment for life twice over would be anomalous and
irrational for it will disregard the fact that humans like all
other living beings have but one life to live. So understood
Section 31 (1) would permit consecutive running of sentences
only if such sentences do not happen to be life sentences.
That is, in our opinion, the only way one can avoid an obvious
11Page 12
impossibility of a prisoner serving two consecutive life
sentences.
18. A somewhat similar question fell for consideration before
a three-Judge Bench of this Court in Ranjit Singh vs. Union
Territory of Chandigarh, (1991) 4 SCC 304. The prisoner was
in that case convicted for murder and sentenced to undergo
life imprisonment. He was released on parole while undergoing
the life sentence when he committed a second offence of
murder for which also he was convicted and sentenced to
undergo imprisonment for life. In an appeal filed against the
second conviction and sentence, this Court by an order dated
30th September, 1983 directed that the imprisonment for life
awarded to him should not run concurrently with his earlier
sentence of life imprisonment. The Court directed that in the
event of remission or commutation of the earlier sentence
awarded to the prisoner, the second imprisonment for life
awarded for the second murder committed by him shall
commence. Aggrieved by the said direction which made the
second life sentence awarded to him consecutive, the prisoner
filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution
12Page 13
primarily on the ground that this Court’s order dated 30th
September, 1983 was contrary to Section 427 (2) of the
Cr.P.C., according to which any person already undergoing
sentence of imprisonment for life if sentenced to undergo
imprisonment for life, the subsequent sentence so awarded to
him shall run concurrently with such previous sentence.
Relying upon Godse’s and Maru Ram’s cases (supra), this
Court held that imprisonment for life is a sentence for
remainder of the life of the offender. There was, therefore, no
question of a subsequent sentence of imprisonment for life
running consecutively as per the general rule contained in
sub-section (1) of Section 427. This Court observed:
“8.xxxxxxxxx
As rightly contended by Shri Garg, and not disputed by
Shri Lalit, the earlier sentence of imprisonment for life
being understood to mean as a sentence to serve the
remainder of life in prison unless commuted or remitted
by the appropriate authority and a person having only
one life span, the sentence on a subsequent conviction
of imprisonment for a term or imprisonment for life can
only be superimposed to the earlier life sentence and
certainly not added to it since extending the life span of
the offender or for that matter anyone is beyond human
might. It is this obvious situation which is stated in
sub-section (2) of Section 427 since the general rule
enunciated in sub-section (1) thereof is that without the
court’s direction the subsequent sentence will not run
concurrently but consecutively. The only situation in
which no direction of the court is needed to make the
subsequent sentence run concurrently with the previous
sentence is provided for in sub-section (2) which has
13Page 14
been enacted to avoid any possible controversy based
on sub-section (1) if there be no express direction of the
court to that effect. Sub-section (2) is in the nature of an
exception to the general rule enacted in sub-section (1)
of Section 427 that a sentence on subsequent conviction
commences on expiry of the first sentence unless the
court directs it to run concurrently. The meaning and
purpose of sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 427 and
the object of enacting sub-section (2) is, therefore,
clear.”
19. Having said that, this Court declared that once the
subsequent imprisonment for life awarded to the prisoner is
superimposed over the earlier life sentence, the grant of any
remission or commutation qua the earlier sentence of life
imprisonment will not ipso facto benefit the prisoner qua the
subsequent sentence of life imprisonment. Such subsequent
sentence would continue and shall remain unaffected by the
remission or commutation of the earlier sentence. This Court
said :
“xxxxxxxxx
In other words, the operation of the superimposed
subsequent sentence of life imprisonment shall not be
wiped out merely because in respect of the
corresponding earlier sentence of life imprisonment any
remission or commutation has been granted by the
appropriate authority. The consequence is that the
petitioner would not get any practical benefit of any
remission or commutation in respect of his earlier
sentence because of the superimposed subsequent life
sentence unless the same corresponding benefit in
respect of the subsequent sentence is also granted to
the petitioner. It is in this manner that the direction is
14Page 15
given for the two sentences of life imprisonment not to
run concurrently.”
20. Ranjit Singh’s case (supra) was no doubt dealing with a
fact situation different from the one with which we are dealing
in the present case, inasmuch as Ranjit Singh’s case (supra)
was covered by Section 427 of the Cr.P.C. as the prisoner in
that case was already undergoing a sentence of life
imprisonment when he committed a second offence of murder
that led to his conviction and award of a second sentence of
life imprisonment. In the cases at hand, the appellants were
not convicts undergoing life sentence at the time of
commission of multiple murders by them. Their cases,
therefore, fall more appropriately under Section 31 of the Code
which deals with conviction of several offences at one trial.
Section 31(1) deals with and empowers the Court to award,
subject to the provisions of Section 71 of the IPC, several
punishments prescribed for such offences and mandates that
such punishments when consisting of imprisonment shall
commence one after the expiration of the other in such order
as the Court may direct unless the Court directs such
punishments shall run concurrently. The power to award
suitable sentences for several offences committed by the
15Page 16
offenders is not and cannot be disputed. The order in which
such sentences shall run can also be stipulated by the Court
awarding such sentences. So also the Court is competent in
its discretion to direct that punishment awarded shall run
concurrently not consecutively. The question, however, is
whether the provision admits of more than one life sentences
running consecutively. That question can be answered on a
logical basis only if one accepts the truism that humans have
one life and the sentence of life imprisonment once awarded
would require the prisoner to spend the remainder of his life in
jail unless the sentence is commuted or remitted by the
competent authority. That, in our opinion, happens to be the
logic behind Section 427 (2) of the Cr.P.C. mandating that if a
prisoner already undergoing life sentence is sentenced to
another imprisonment for life for a subsequent offence
committed by him, the two sentences so awarded shall run
concurrently and not consecutively. Section 427 (2) in that
way carves out an exception to the general rule recognised in
Section 427 (1) that sentences awarded upon conviction for a
subsequent offence shall run consecutively. The Parliament, it
manifests from the provisions of Section 427 (2), was fully
16Page 17
cognizant of the anomaly that would arise if a prisoner
condemned to undergo life imprisonment is directed to do so
twice over. It has, therefore, carved out an exception to the
general rule to clearly recognise that in the case of life
sentences for two distinct offences separately tried and held
proved the sentences cannot be directed to run consecutively.
The provisions of Section 427 (2) apart, in Ranjit Singh’s case
(supra), this Court has in terms held that since life sentence
implies imprisonment for the remainder of the life of the
convict, consecutive life sentences cannot be awarded as
humans have only one life. That logic, in our view, must
extend to Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. also no matter Section 31
does not in terms make a provision analogous to Section 427
(2) of the Code. The provision must, in our opinion, be so
interpreted as to prevent any anomaly or irrationality. So
interpreted Section 31 (1) must mean that sentences awarded
by the Court for several offences committed by the prisoner
shall run consecutively (unless the Court directs otherwise)
except where such sentences include imprisonment for life
which can and must run concurrently. We are also inclined
to hold that if more than one life sentences are awarded to the
17Page 18
prisoner, the same would get super imposed over each other.
This will imply that in case the prisoner is granted the benefit
of any remission or commutation qua one such sentence, the
benefit of such remission would not ipso facto extend to the
other.
21. We may now turn to the conflict noticed in the reference
order between the decisions of this Court in Cherian and
Duryodhan’s cases (supra) on the one hand and Kamalanatha
and Sanaullah Khan’s cases (supra) on the other.
22. In O.M. Cherian’s case (supra) the prisoner was convicted
and sentenced to imprisonment for offences punishable under
Sections 498 A and 306 of the IPC. The Courts below had in
that case awarded to the convicts imprisonment for two years
under Section 498 A of the IPC and seven years under Section
306 of IPC and directed the same to run consecutively.
Aggrieved by the said direction, the prisoners appealed to this
Court to contend that the sentences awarded to them ought to
run concurrently and not consecutively. The appeal was
referred to a larger bench of Three Judges of this Court in the
light of the decision in Mohd. Akhtar Hussain @ Ibrahim Ahmed
18Page 19
Bhatti vs. Assistant Collector of Customs (Prevention),
Ahmedabad and Anr. (1988) 4 SCC 183. Before the larger
bench, the prisoners relied upon Mohd Akhtar Hussain’s case
(supra) and Manoj @ Panu vs. State of Haryana (2014) 2 SCC
153 to contend that since the prisoners were found guilty of
more than two offences committed in the course of one
incident, such sentences ought to run concurrently. This
Court upon a review of the case law on the subject held that
Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. vested the court with the power to
order in its discretion that the sentences awarded shall run
concurrently in case of conviction of two or more offences. This
Court declared that it was difficult to lay down a straightjacket
rule for the exercise of such discretion by the courts. Whether
a sentence should run concurrently or consecutively would
depend upon the nature of the offence and the facts and
circumstances of the case. All that could be said was that the
discretion has to be exercised along judicial lines and not
mechanically. Having said that, the Court observed that if two
life sentences are imposed on a convict the court has to direct
the same to run concurrently. That is because sentence of
19Page 20
imprisonment for life means imprisonment till the normal life of
a convict.
23. As noticed above, Cherian’s case (supra) did not involve
awarding of two or more life sentences to the prisoner. It was a
case of two term sentences being awarded for two different
offences committed in the course of the same transaction and
tried together at one trial. Even so, this Court held that life
sentences cannot be made to run consecutively plainly because
a single life sentence ensures that the remainder of the life of
the prisoner is spent by him in jail. Such being the case, the
question of a second such sentence being undergone
consecutively did not arise.
24. In Duryodhan Rout’s case (supra) the prisoner was
convicted for offences punishable under Sections 302, 376 (2)(f)
and 201 of the IPC and sentenced to death for the offence of
murder and rigorous imprisonment for the offence punishable
under Section 376(2)(f). Imprisonment for a period of one year
was additionally awarded under Section 201 of IPC with a
direction that the sentences would run consecutively. In
appeal, the High Court altered the sentence of death to
20Page 21
imprisonment for life while leaving the remaining sentences
untouched. The petitioner then approached this Court to argue
that the sentences ought to run concurrently and not
consecutively as directed by the Courts below. Relying upon
the decision of this Court in Gopal Vinayak’s case (supra) and
several other subsequent decisions on the subject this Court
held that the sentence of imprisonment for life means
imprisonment for the remainder of the life of the prisoner. The
Court further held that Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. would not
permit consecutive running of life sentence and the term
sentence since the aggregate punishment of the petitioner
would go beyond the outer limit of 14 years stipulated in the
proviso to Section 31(2) of the Cr.P.C. The Court observed:
“Section 31 of Cr.P.C. relates to sentence in cases of
conviction of several offences at one trial. Proviso to
Sub-Section (2) to Section 31 lays down the embargo
whether the aggregate punishment of prisoner is for a
period of longer than 14 years. In view of the fact that
life imprisonment means imprisonment for full and
complete span of life, the question of consecutive
sentences in case of conviction for several offences at
one trial does not arise. Therefore, in case a person is
sentenced of conviction of several offences, including
one that of life imprisonment, the proviso to Section
31(2) shall come into play and no consecutive sentence
can be imposed.”
21Page 22
25. While we have no doubt about the correctness of the
proposition that two life sentences cannot be directed to run
consecutively, we do not think that the reason for saying so lies
in the proviso to Section 31 (2). Section 31(2) of the Cr.P.C.
deals with situations where the Court awarding consecutive
sentences is not competent to award the aggregate of the
punishment for the several offences for which the prisoner is
being sentenced upon conviction. A careful reading of
sub-Section (2) would show that the same is concerned only
with situations where the Courts awarding the sentence and
directing the same to run consecutively is not competent to
award the aggregate of the punishment upon conviction for a
single offence. The proviso further stipulates that in cases
falling under sub-section (2), the sentence shall in no case go
beyond 14 years and the aggregate punishment shall not
exceed twice the amount of punishment which the Court is
competent to award. Now in cases tried by the Sessions Court,
there is no limitation as to the Court’s power to award any
punishment sanctioned by law including the capital
punishment. Sub-section (2) will, therefore, have no application
to a case tried by the Sessions Court nor would Sub-section (2)
22Page 23
step in to forbid a direction for consecutive running of
sentences awardable by the Court of Session.
26. To the extent Duryodhan Rout case (supra) relies upon
proviso to Sub-section (2) to support the conclusion that a
direction for consecutive running of sentences is
impermissible, it does not state the law correctly, even when
the conclusion that life imprisonment means for the full span
of one’s life and consecutive life sentences cannot be awarded
is otherwise sound and acceptable.
27. In Kamalanantha vs. State of Tamil Nadu, (2005) 5 SCC
194, the prisoners were convicted amongst others for offences
under Sections 376, 302, 354 of the IPC and sentenced to
under rigorous imprisonment for life for offences under
Sections 376 and 302 and various terms of imprisonment for
other offences with the direction that the sentences awarded
shall run consecutively. One of the issues that was raised in
support of the appeal was that the Courts below were not
justified in awarding consecutive life sentences. That
contention was rejected by a two-Judge Bench of this Court in
the following words:
23Page 24
“The contention of Mr. Jethmalani that the term
“imprisonment” enjoined in Section 31 CrPC does
not include imprisonment for life is unacceptable.
The term “imprisonment” is not defined under the
Code of Criminal Procedure. Section 31 of the Code
falls under Chapter III of the Code which deals with
power of courts. Section 28 of the Code empowers
the High Court to pass any sentence authorised by
law. Similarly, the Sessions Judge and Additional
Sessions Judge may pass any sentence authorised
by law, except the sentence of death which shall be
subject to confirmation by the High Court. In our
opinion the term “imprisonment” would include the
sentence of imprisonment for life.”
28. The above view runs contrary to the ratio of this Court’s
decision in Cherian’s case (supra) and Duryodhan Rout’s case
(supra). That apart the view taken in Kamalanantha’s case has
not noticed the basic premise that a life sentence once awarded
would imply that a prisoner shall spend the remainder of his
life in prison. Once that happens there is no question of his
undergoing another life sentence. To the extent the decision in
Kamalanantha’s case takes the view that the Court can for
each offence award suitable punishment which may include
multiple sentences of imprisonment for life for multiple
offences punishable with death, there is and can be no quarrel
with the stated proposition. The Court can and indeed ought to
exercise its powers of awarding the sentence sanctioned by law
which may include a life sentence. But if the decision in
24Page 25
Kamalanantha purports to hold that sentence of imprisonment
for life can also be directed to run consecutively, the same does
not appear to be sound for the reasons we have already
indicated earlier. We need to remember that award of multiple
sentences of imprisonment for life so that such sentences are
super imposed over one another is entirely different from
directing such sentence to run consecutively.
29. Sanaullah Khan vs. State of Bihar, (2013) 3 SCC 52 simply
follows the view taken in Kamalanantha’s case and, therefore,
does not add any new dimension to call for any further
deliberation on the subject.
30. We are not unmindful of the fact that this Court has in
several other cases directed sentences of imprisonment for life
to run consecutively having regard to the gruesome and brutal
nature of the offence committed by the prisoner. For instance,
this Court has in Ravindra Trimbak Chouthmal vs. State of
Maharashtra (1996) 4 SCC 148, while commuting death
sentence penalty to one of imprisonment for life directed that
the sentence of seven years rigorous imprisonment under
Section 207 IPC shall start running after life imprisonment has
25Page 26
run its due course. So also in Ronny vs. State of Maharashtra
(1998) 3 SCC 625 this Court has while altering the death
sentence to that of imprisonment for life directed that while the
sentence for all other offences shall run concurrently, the
sentence under Section 376 (2)(g) shall run consecutively after
running of sentences for other offences. To the extent these
decisions may be understood to hold that life sentence can also
run consecutively do not lay down the correct law and shall
stand overruled.
31. In conclusion our answer to the question is in the
negative. We hold that while multiple sentences for
imprisonment for life can be awarded for multiple murders or
other offences punishable with imprisonment for life, the life
sentences so awarded cannot be directed to run consecutively.
Such sentences would, however, be super imposed over each
other so that any remission or commutation granted by the
competent authority in one does not ipso facto result in
remission of the sentence awarded to the prisoner for the other.
32. We may, while parting, deal with yet another dimension of
this case argued before us namely whether the Court can direct
26Page 27
life sentence and term sentences to run consecutively. That
aspect was argued keeping in view the fact that the appellants
have been sentenced to imprisonment for different terms apart
from being awarded imprisonment for life. The Trial Court’s
direction affirmed by the High Court is that the said term
sentences shall run consecutively. It was contended on behalf
of the appellants that even this part of the direction is not
legally sound, for once the prisoner is sentenced to undergo
imprisonment for life, the term sentence awarded to him must
run concurrently. We do not, however, think so. The power of
the Court to direct the order in which sentences will run is
unquestionable in view of the language employed in Section 31
of the Cr.P.C. The Court can, therefore, legitimately direct that
the prisoner shall first undergo the term sentence before the
commencement of his life sentence. Such a direction shall be
perfectly legitimate and in tune with Section 31. The converse
however may not be true for if the Court directs the life
sentence to start first it would necessarily imply that the term
sentence would run concurrently. That is because once the
prisoner spends his life in jail, there is no question of his
undergoing any further sentence. Whether or not the direction
27Page 28
of the Court below calls for any modification or alteration is a
matter with which we are not concerned. The Regular Bench
hearing the appeals would be free to deal with that aspect of
the matter having regard to what we have said in the foregoing
paragraphs.
33. The reference is accordingly answered.
….………………………………..CJI.
 (T.S. THAKUR)
………………….......................J.
 (FAKKIR MOHAMED IBRAHIM KALIFULLA)
............................................J.
 (A.K. SIKRI)
............................................J.
 (S.A. BOBDE)
 ............................................J.
 (R. BANUMATHI)
New Delhi
July 19, 2016

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