“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?.”= 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 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. – 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. – 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 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.

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)

WITH

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.225 OF 2009

CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS.226-227 OF 2009

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.895 OF 2009

AND

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.429 OF 2015

J U D G M E N T
T.S. THAKUR, CJI.

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?.”
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.”

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). 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 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:
“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 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 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
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 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 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 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 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
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 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 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 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.”

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) 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:
“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 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 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 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 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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