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Key Takeaways

  • The Indian legislators have very thoughtfully made the provisions so that an offender is punished for his actions.
  • Some offences call for fine and in case of inability to make the payment, the Courts also have the power to determine the sentence in case of default.
  • The Courts have given the interpretations of the provisions in their judgments so as to make it understandable.
  • The offenders have to fulfil the sentences for their offences, some are sentenced to undergo imprisonment cumulatively and some have to undergo concurrently.
  • The article discusses the provisions that provide for default sentences with examples.

Introduction

Some offences are penalised by both imprisonment and a fine, whereas others are penalised simply by a fine. What should be done if an accused is condemned to pay a fine but is unable or unwilling to pay it? Should he be given the free pass? He obviously has to face the consequences, and the only other option is for him to be imprisoned. It is important to understand what provides for the punishment for sentences in case of default in paying fine. When a Court does not specify the duration of imprisonment, which an offender would face if he or she fails to pay a fine, as is often the case when merely a fine is imposed, the term of imprisonment must be computed according to a defined scale. Courts are also informed by this scale when determining the terms of jail to be served if a fine is not paid.

Legal Provisions

Section 30 of the Code of Criminal Procedure deals with the magistrate’s powers to impose fines and sentence people to imprisonment, if they fail to pay the fine. The provision is broken down into three sections. The magistrate's powers are limited in the first section. This clause establishes the maximum sentence and fine that magistrates of various classifications can impose. Section 30 ensures that a magistrate's powers to sentence an accused person to jail are not exceeded.

If the offence is punishable by both imprisonment and a fine, the length of imprisonment for failure to pay will not exceed one-fourth of the maximum term of imprisonment set by the Code for the offence. If the offence is one that is solely punishable by a fine under the Code, the term of jail for failure to pay will not exceed seven days.

Although there are no specific criteria for courts to follow when imposing fines, basic concepts governing fine imposition are set out in Sections 63 to 70 of the IPC. In Mendi Ali's case, the Allahabad High Court revoked the fine imposed on the accused, claiming that he was only a poor peasant and that the sentence of incarceration if he did not pay the fine was also excessive because it would exceed the maximum permitted punishment. This brought up the concept of considering the accused's financial situation when determining the amount of the fine. The Supreme Court ruled in Palaniappa Goundan v. State of Tamil Nadu that default sentences should not be excessive. If the fine levied is high and excessive, the goal of achieving it will never be achieved.

In Shakir v. The State of Madhya Pradesh, the Madhya Pradesh High Court held that when imposing a punishment, one should always consider the criteria outlined in sections 63 to 70 of the IPC, and that the fine should not be excessive but proportionate to the accused's financial situation. The court stated that the offender's financial situation, as well as the nature and severity of the offence, must be considered when imposing a fine. Because of the disparity in class and economic level among the accused, a single amount of fine cannot be set for any given offence.

Section 63 states that if there is no specific reference of the amount of fine to be imposed, the court has the authority to impose a fine that may be unlimited but not exorbitant. Many times, the Supreme Court and various HCs have put down distinct criteria to be followed while imposing fines at various points in time. This helped to resolve the issue of the unclear language of the Section. Section 64 deals with the case of imprisonment for non-payment of a fine. The legislators intended for this to act as a deterrent to paying the fee. It states that the same court can impose a sentence of imprisonment that is greater than the sentence imposed for the serious offence he committed.

Section 65 protects the accused in the event that he or she is imprisoned for failing to pay a fine. It states that if a person fails to pay the fine, he or she may be sentenced to serve a term of jail equal to one-fourth of the maximum term of imprisonment allowed for the primary offence for which he is being punished. According to Section 66, the type of imprisonment a person may face if they fail to pay their fine is determined by the type of imprisonment authorised for the substantive offence.

Section 67 of the IPC deals with offences for which the only penalty is a fine. It specifies the maximum period of jail that can be imposed if a fine is not paid. If the fine does not exceed Rs. 50, the maximum sentence is two months in prison; if the fine does not exceed Rs. 100, the maximum sentence is four months in prison; and if the fine surpasses Rs. 100, the maximum sentence is six months in prison. Section 68 is likewise an accused-friendly provision that prioritises imprisonment above fines. That is to say, if a person pays his fine, his or her imprisonment will come to an end at that moment. Section 69 follows the same idea, but states that the length of the sentence is reduced in proportion to the amount of the fine paid by the person. Section 70 establishes a six-year limitation period for realising the fine, and if the sentence is more than six years, the payment must be paid before the time expires.

The Court, in Paras Nath and Ors. v. State, stated that the sentence of prison for failing to pay a fine is not a punishment for the offence for which the offender has been convicted, but rather for his failure to pay the fine imposed as a penalty for the offence. In the case of Sharad Hiru v. State of Maharashtra, the Court had taken into consideration the financial status of the accused and their inability to pay the fine and reduced the default sentence to 1 year each on each fine imposed. The Court held that while courts have the authority to determine that sentences run concurrently, no statute stipulates the imposition of imprisonment for failure to pay a fine.

In Dumya Alias Lakhan Alias Inamdar v. State of Maharashtra, the accused were charged and convicted under several provisions of the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act, as well as Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code. They were found guilty and sentenced to 7/10 years in jail, a fine of Rs. 5,00,000 lacs, and 3 years of solitary confinement if they did not comply, all of which were to run concurrently. It was argued that the default penalties were severe in light of the accused's financial situation. The court noted that the facts of the case were comparable to those in the Sharad Hiru case, and that the accused in that instance was in similar financial circumstances. A convict's default sentences cannot be allowed to run concurrently, according to the Supreme Court. On each count, the Court lowered the default sentence to one year.

Conclusion

The concept of punishment is to make the offender realise the result of his actions and to make an example of it to the society so that others do not commit such an offence. But that does not mean that the condition and the status of the offenders are totally ignored. The legislators and the Courts have made sure that the purpose of imposing a punishment is achieved and yet the offender does not have to suffer but only fulfil his punishment.


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