Section 354 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr.P.C.) – Explained!
A judgment in a criminal case should contain statement of facts in respect of which the accused person is charged and the analysis and appreciation of evidence while reaching
the conclusions regarding the proof of facts.
The judgment should be self-contained and it should indicate that the Magistrate or Judge, as the case may be, had applied his mind to the facts and evidence led therein by the respective parties and the criticism of this evidence, justifying the conclusions reached by him. The Supreme Court has, time and again, held that all orders passed by the Courts should be ‘speaking orders’ giving reasons for the decision after noting the points at issue.
It is the bounden duty of the Court to analyse and discuss the evidence in its judgment. Each evidence is to be weighed and assessed on its own merits and then accepted or rejected. The judgment must specify the offence and the relevant section of the Penal Code or any other law under which the accused is convicted and the punishment to which he is sentenced.
Punishment awarded should not be irrelevant:
It is the settled principle of criminal law that quantum of sentence should be decided as per facts and circumstances of each case. Imposition of inadequate sentence does more harm to justice system. Social impact of crime is relevant in deciding the quantum of sentence.
The Supreme Court in State of M. P. v. Kashi Ram, held that punishment to be awarded for a crime must not be irrelevant. It should conform to and be consistent with atrocity and brutality with which the crime has been perpetrated. It should “respond to the society’s cry for justice against the criminal”.
The Supreme Court in Ankush Maruti Shinde v. State of Maharashtra exhorted the Courts against imposition of inadequate sentence which does more harm to justice system. It emphasised that it is the duty of every Court to award proper sentence having regard to the nature of the offence, and the manner in which it was executed or committed etc.
In the instant case, the accused were found involved in incident of robbery, rape and murder. Five members of the same family were brutally murdered and the minor girl dragged in open field and gang-raped and done to death.
The murders were not only cruel, brutal but were diabolic. The incident in question was extremely revolting and shocked the conscience of community. The case clearly fell within the category of rarest of rare case and all the accused deserved imposition of death sentence.
Sub-section (3) requires that where the conviction is for an offence punishable with death sentence or in the alternative, with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of years, the judgment must specify the reasons, and in case of imposition of death sentence, the special reasons for the imposition of the particular sentence. The procedure for sentencing under Section 354 (3) does not violate the provisions of Articles 14, 19, and 21 of the Constitution.
In Ram Singh v. Sonia the Supreme Court held that the case clearly fell within the category of rarest of rare cases and, therefore, the High Court was not justified in commuting death sentence of the accused into life imprisonment.
In the instant case, the two accused who were husband and wife not only put an end to lives of wife’s step brother and his whole family which included three little children of 45 days, 2-1/2 years and 4 years of age, but also her own father, mother and sister in a very diabolic manner so as to deprive her father from giving property to her step-brother and his family.
Such merciless and brutal murders were committed while all the victims were sleeping, without any provocation whatsoever from victim’s side indicating cold-blooded and premeditated approach of accused to cause death of victims. The Supreme Court held that it was the rarest of rare case where death penalty was the only proper punishment to be awarded to the accused.
In the case of Swamy Shraddananda alias Murli Manohar Mishra v. State of Kamataka, the husband was accused of killing his wife and the burying the dead body in a big courtyard annexed to his residence. Circumstantial evidence fully established the case against the accused who was all the time giving false information about the whereabouts of deceased to her relatives and the police.
Justifying the award of death sentence the Supreme Court referred to the provision contained in Section 354 (3), Cr. P.C. which mandates that maximum punishment may be awarded only after exhaustive inquiry into the accused, related circumstances and reasons for maximum sentence must be recorded in the judgment.
The Court made it clear that it is true that in cases of circumstantial evidence ordinarily death penalty should not be awarded, but it is not an absolute proposition of law. It all depends on the facts of the case where prosecution has established beyond doubt that there is a chain of links which connects the accused with the crime, the award of death sentence will be justified. The Court, therefore, upheld the death penalty of the appellant and the appeal was accordingly dismissed.
It is necessary that every judgment of a criminal Court must contain a clear statement of the points for determination, the decision thereon, and the reasons for the decision so as to enable the Court of appeal to know about the facts that are proved and how they have been proved.
The judgment given by the Metropolitan Magistrate or in summary trials need not be recorded in the usual manner as provided in Section 354 as they may be recorded in specified abridged form.
An order made under Section 117 or 138 and a final order made under Sections 125, 145 or 147 shall contain the point or points for determination, the decision thereon and the reasons for the decision.
The provisions of this section equally apply to the judgment of an Appellate Court as well. However, where the appellate Court agreed generally with the view of the trial Court, it was not necessary to reiterate the reasons already given by the trial Court.
Clause (d) of Section 354 (1) directs that in case of a judgment of acquittal, the offence of which the accused is acquitted must be mentioned and it is mandatory to state that the accused to set at liberty. Thus in a case, where the accused was acquitted but no orders were passed to set him at liberty, and in consequence the accused remained in jail without any fresh remand, his detention was held to be wholly illegal.
Sub-Section (5) provides that where the accused is sentenced to death, the judgment must expressly direct that the accused “be hanged by the neck till he is dead.” It must, however, be stated that the validity of execution of death sentence by hanging the condemned prisoner by neck till he is dead, was challenged on the ground that it is violative of right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution being torturous and cruel mode of punishment. But the Supreme Court upheld the validity of this mode of punishment and observed that sub-section (5) of Section 354 is not violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
Judgment in cases of sexual offences:
Section 228-A inserted in IPC makes the disclosure of identity of victim of certain offences punishable. Publishing or printing name or any matter which may make known the identity of any person against whom an offence under Sections 376, 376A, 376-B, 376-C or 376D of I.P.C. is alleged or found to have been committed, can be punished.
The restriction does not relate to printing or publication of judgment of High Court or Supreme Court. But keeping in view actual object of preventing social victimisation or ostracism of the victim of a sexual offence for which Section 228-A of IPC has been enacted, it would be appropriate that in judgments, be it of the Supreme Court, High Court or lower Court, the name of victim should not be indicated. The Courts have chosen to describe her as victim in the judgment.
Though the Supreme Court has the discretion to award death sentence but it limits it to extremely ‘rarest of rare’ cases.