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Explained: Life Imprisonment in India

The author has explained the meaning of the term “Life Imprisonment” in India. For analysis, the author also used various legal provisions and judicial precedents.

Introduction

Section 53 of the Indian Penal Code mentions the list of punishments given to criminal offenders. One of such offences is life imprisonment. This is the second most rigorous punishment in India. A sentence of imprisonment for life exists for grave offences such as murder, rape, blasphemy, etc.

Meaning of Life Imprisonment

Life imprisonment means imprisonment for the rest of the life of the convicted prisoner.

In the case of Bhagirath & Ors v. Delhi Administration; the Supreme of India defined Imprisonment for life as imprisonment for the remainder of the natural life of the convict. If life imprisonment is given to a person; he shall stay in the prison for a minimum of 14 years and the maximum is the rest of his life.

Life imprisonment was not in existence when the Indian Penal Code (Hereinafter “IPC”); was formulated.

However, when section 53 of IPC was amended in 1955; they replaced “Transportation for life” with “Imprisonment for life”.

The reason for this punishment is to sever the bond between the offender and society. This will not only prevent them from committing further crimes but also allows them to rethink what they’ve done.

Provisions relating to the life imprisonment

There are various provisions under the IPC and Code of Criminal Procedure (Hereinafter Cr.P.C) that deal with Life Imprisonment.

Two provisions in IPC usually confuse the citizens on the duration of the life imprisonment. That includes section 55 and 57:

  1. Section 55 mentions that if a person is sentenced to life imprisonment; then the appropriate government decides to commute his punishment, they may do it without the consent of the prisoner. However, that commuting punishment shall not exceed 14 years. This should not be confused with the duration of the life imprisonment as IPC does not limit life imprisonment to 14 years but the commuting punishment.
  2. Section 57 discusses the calculation of fractions of terms of punishment. This is for sections 116, 119, 120, and 511 of the IPC. For example, we can consider section 116 and Section 57 of IPC. When a person abets an offence that is punishable with life imprisonment; then the fractions of terms of punishment of that person shall be calculated as equivalent to imprisonment for 20 years.

Further, three provisions under Cr.P.C that deals with life imprisonment. They include

  1. Section 432 empowers the appropriate government to remit or suspend the sentences of any convicted person including life imprisonment
  2. Section 433 empowers the appropriate government to commute the sentences, where they have mentioned that, that commuting sentence shall not exceed 14 years.
  3. Section 433A restricts the power of remission or commutation in certain cases that include not exceeding the term 14 years for life imprisonment.

Judicial Precedents

In the case of Gopal Vinayak Godse v. The State of Maharashtra; the court held that life imprisonment cannot be equated with any fixed term. Consequently, life imprisonment imprisons a prisoner for the rest of his life. Until or unless his sentence was commuted or remitted by the appropriate government.

In the case of Naib Singh v. State of Punjab & Ors.; the Supreme Court of India cleared the confusion with the duration of life imprisonment and section 55 of IPC. The court held that a life convict cannot claim for his release after serving 14 years in prison. Life imprisonment continues until the death of the prison. The only exception to this is commutation and remission.

In Union of India v. V. Sriharan; the High Court of Punjab and Haryana held that the trial court does not have the power to deprive the remission power of the appropriate government. This power lies only with the High court and Supreme Court. This was reiterated in the case of Savitri v, State of Haryana.

Conclusion

Life imprisonment as the name suggests it is imprisonment for life. However, the appropriate government shall consider certain factors and remit or commute the prisoner. Those factors include the conduct of the prisoner, family situation, age of the prisoner, work is done in the prison, etc. Hence, as much as life imprisonment being a punishment to prevent the person from committing the crime; it also helps him to reform himself.

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