SC: Socio-economic factors to be considered while awarding a sentence.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 12th December, 2018, in the matter of M.A. Antony @ Antappan v. State of Kerala elucidated that socio-economic factors relating to a convict should be taken into consideration for deciding whether to award life sentence or death sentence. While the socio-economic condition of a convict is not a factor for disproving his guilt, it is a factor that must be taken into consideration for the purposes of awarding an appropriate sentence to a convict.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court also observed that

The socio-economic factors relating to a convict should be taken into consideration for the purposes of deciding whether to award life sentence or death sentence. One of the reasons for this is the perception (perhaps misplaced) that it is only convicts belonging to the poor and disadvantaged sections of society that are awarded capital sentence while others are not. (Para 15)

Socio-economic factors must be taken into consideration while awarding a sentence particularly the ground realities relating to access to justice and remedies to justice that are not easily available to the poor and the needy. (Para 16)

The consideration of socio-economic factors is tied up with another important issue (which need not necessarily or always be taken into consideration for sentencing purposes, but could be relevant in a given case) and that is whether the convict has had adequate legal representation. Several accused persons belonging to the weaker sections of society cannot afford defence counsel and they are obliged to turn to the National Legal Services Authority, the State Legal Services Authority or the District Legal Services Committee for legal representation. While these authorities provide the best legal assistance possible at their command, it sometimes falls short of expectations resulting in the conviction of an accused and, depending upon the facts of the case and the sentencing process followed, a sentence of death follows. (Para 17)

The poor are more often than not at the receiving end in access to justice and access to the remedies available is evident from a fairly recent report prepared by the Supreme Court Legal Services Committeewhich acknowledges, through Project Sahyog, enormous delays in attending to cases of the poor and the needy. Quality legal aid to the disadvantaged and weaker sections of society is an area that requires great and urgent attention. (Para 18)

It would be wise if impressions gathered on what is perceived to be public opinion or collective conscience of the society are eschewed while sentencing a convict found guilty of a grave or brutal crime. (Para 27)

Even though the case may be one of circumstantial evidence, it is now well settled that that by itself is not enough to convert a sentence of death into a sentence of imprisonment for life. (Para 28)

While the socio-economic condition of a convict is not a factor for disproving his guilt, it is a factor that must be taken into consideration for the purposes of awarding an appropriate sentence to a convict. (Para 31)

The long delays in courts must, of course, be taken into account, but what is needed is a systemic and systematic reform in criminal justice delivery rather than ad hoc or judge-centric decisions. (Para 32)

Copy of Judgement:Judgement 12-Dec-2018

-Tushar Kaushik 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *