Joseph V. The State of Kerala & Ors.
Date of Order:
21th September, 2023
Hon'ble Justice S. Ravindra Bhat
Hon'ble Justice Dipankar Datta
Respondent: State of Kerala & Ors.
Section 302of IPC- Punishment for murder
Section 376 of IPC- Punishment for rape
Section 392 of IPC- Punishment for robbery
- On September 16, 1994, it was alleged that the petitioner went to the place of employment of his sister-in-law (the deceased victim) and, with the consent of the convent director where she worked, took the deceased victim away under the false pretence that her mother was seriously ill and had been admitted to the hospital.
- The prosecution said that he forced her to walk beside the railroad lines where he allegedly sexually assaulted her and took the jewellery she was wearing before dumping her on the tracks to be hit by a passing train.
- The petitioner was detained until the trial court cleared him of all charges on 23.03.1996 after being detained on 09.10.1994 in connection with the case.
- By its decision dated January 6, 1998, the High Court nullified the acquittal and found the petitioner guilty of the offenses covered by Sections 302, 376, and 392 of the IPC. The High Court gave him a concurrent life sentence for the offense under Section 302 and a strict 7-year term for each count under Sections 376 and 392 of the IPC.
- On April 27, 2000, this court, however, overturned the judgment under Section 376 IPC and only upheld the conviction and punishment under Sections 302 and 392 IPC.
The issues raised in the court is whether the accused could be prematurely released by enforcing his right under Article 32 of the Constitution of India?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT
- The petitioner's learned attorney argued against the state government's repeated denial of his request for early release.
- It was made clear that the remission guidelines in effect on the date of the conviction would need to be followed.
- Rule 216(1), 244(2), and 299(c) of the 1958 Rules, which state that the inmate shall be released after completing 20 years of sentence, as well as the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which mandates mandatory release after 25 years of sentence, were all brought to the public's attention. Rule 545A of the 1958 Rules stipulates that release can be considered after 14 years.
- The petitioner is also eligible for release after 20 years under Rule 377 of the 2014 New Prison Rules.
- It was contended that as the petitioner had already served 14 years, 20 years, or even 25 years in actual prison, it was clearly unlawful to put him behind bars indefinitely at this point, regardless of the rules that were being used.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT
The state's experienced senior counsel said that the petitioner cannot assert a fundamental right to be released on remission and that the writ petition's request for this court to order the government to release him is simply unmaintainable.
He called attention to the fact that the crime was premeditated cold-blooded murder combined with robbery. It was suggested that the assault of an innocent young woman by someone she put her trust in—her brother-in-law, no less—who then stole her possessions and killed her in such a gruesome way shocked society as a whole.
- According to the court, the 1958 Rules are unambiguous in the petitioner's case: a life sentence is equivalent to 20 years in prison. The prisoner is then eligible for an early release. The petitioner's attorney brought forth NHRC standards that mandate release after serving 25 years of a sentence (even for terrible offenses), and they are equally important to take into account.
- Redirecting the petitioner, who has already served more than 26 years in prison (and more than 35 years of punishment with remission), before the Advisory Board and then the state government for early release would be a cruel result, similar to being given only a salve to put out a raging fire, in the name of procedure. At the altar of process, which this court has frequently deemed to be a "handmaiden of justice," the lofty vision of the rule of law and the notion of fairness is thus swept aside.
- According to Rule 376 of the 2014 Rules, inmates are entitled to remission for maintaining order and good behavior while incarcerated. According to the State's statistics, the petitioner has accrued more than 8 years of remission, proved his good behavior while incarcerated. He is described as diligent, disciplined, and a reformer inmate in the Jail Advisory Board meeting minutes, which are similarly encouraging. This court therefore believes that it would be reasonable to order the petitioner's release with immediate effect in the interests of justice. It is arranged appropriately.
- Thus, the writ petition is granted in the manner stated above.
With the exception of grave crimes like rape and murder, prisoners who have served at least 14 years in prison may be granted a premature release by using the authorities outlined in the Constitution and legislation. Premature release is an executive function and not a legal procedure. State governments have the authority to suspend or remit all or a portion of a convict's sentence under Section 432 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code.