Benefit of Probation Not Excluded by the Provisions of Mandatory Minimum Sentence Under Section 397 of Ipc

This case concerns the dispute regarding the granting of probation on good conduct to the accused under the age of twenty-one years.  

Brief facts of the case

The appellants (Jagdeep Singh and Lakhvir Singh) were aged 20 and 19 when along with the co-accused Gurpreet Singh, they caught hold of the complainant in his taxi and inflicted severe injuries to him using a dagger and a knife. Then, they threw him out of his taxi. The complaint was filed by the complaint under Section 382 and Section 307 read with Section 34 IPC. 

The appellants were convicted, after trials, by the trial Court under Section 397 IPC and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of 7 years. The appeal preferred by the appellant was dismissed. Then, they approached the Supreme Court by a Special Leave Petition, with a compromise deed between the complainant and the appellants. The Supreme Court while recording this plea, simultaneously impleaded the complainant as the second respondent. 

The argument of the parties

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The learned counsel for the appellant has sought the benefit under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958, (the Act) given the age of the appellants when the offence was committed. 

The learned counsel for State Respondent relied upon the judgment in the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v. Vikram Das, in which it was opined that the Courts cannot impose less than the minimum sentence prescribed by the Statute. He thus seeks the continuing detention of the appellants to serve out the remaining sentence. 

Observation by the court

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The Court observed that the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act provides for the rationale for the enactment and its amendment: to give the benefit of release of offenders on probation on good conduct instead of sentencing them to imprisonment. Thus, greater emphasis on the reformation and rehabilitation of offenders without subjecting them to deleterious jail life. Section 6 of the Act, itself provides for restricting imprisonment of offenders under 21 years of age. 

The 4-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the case of Ramji Misar vs. the State of Bihar, observed that while seeking to apply the said provisions to offenders who were under 21 years of age on the date of sentencing and not on the date of commission of the offence. 

However, in Masarullah vs. State of Tamil Nadu, it was held that in case of the offender under the age of twenty-one years on the date of commission of the offence, the Court is expected to ordinarily give benefits of the provisions of the Act and there is no embargo on the power of the Court to award sentence unless the Court considers otherwise, ‘having regard to the circumstances of the case including nature of the offence and the character of the offender’ and reasons for awarding sentences have to be recorded. 

The Court noted the distinction between Section 6, which is like an injunction for courts to follow as distinct from Section 3 or 4 of the Act, which is discretionary. 

In the case of appellants, Section 3 has no application because of the nature of the offence. However, Section 4 comes to the aid of the appellants as the offence committed, of which they have been found guilty, is not punishable with death or imprisonment for life. 

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The term “notwithstanding” contained in Section 4 permits, the Court to release a person on bond, with or without sureties, for 3 years instead of sentencing him to ensure that he keeps the peace and good behaviour, despite anything contained in any other law. 

In the judgment of the Supreme Court in Sudesh Kumar vs. the State of  Uttarakhand, it was noted that in Masarullah, this Court had calculated the age of the convict as on the date of the commission of the offence incorrectly and there has been no discussion of the potential tension between the grant of probation under the At and the mandatory minimum sentence of 7 years under Section 397 IPC. 

The observation in Ramji Missar was cited with approval to the effect that in case of any ambiguity, the beneficial provisions of the Act should receive wide interpretation and should not be read in a restricted sense. 

In the case of CCE vs. Bahubali, it was opined that the Act may not apply in cases where a specific law enacted after 1958 prescribes a mandatory minimum sentence, and the law contains a non-obstante clause. Thus, the benefits of the Act did not apply in the case of mandatory minimum sentences prescribed by special legislation enacted after the Act. It is in this context; the Court cannot ward a sentence less than the mandatory sentence prescribed by the statute. 

The Supreme Court was of the view that the benefit of probation under the said Act is not excluded by the provisions of mandatory minimum sentence under Section 397 of IPC, the offence in the present case.

The decision of the court

Under Section 4 of the Act, the appellants were released on probation of good conduct, on the completion of half of their sentence.

Case: Lakhvir Singh Etc. Vs. The State of Punjab & Anr.

Click here to read the judgment.


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