A court, while imposing sentence, has a duty to respond to the "collective cry" of the society as people await with patience to see that justice is done, the Supreme Court said as it quashed a High Court order to allow three persons to walk free in a case of abetment to suicide.
The apex court termed as "casual and fanciful", the order of the high court to reduce the sentence of three years jail term of the three convicts to the period of nearly four months and 20 days, already undergone by them.
"A court, while imposing sentence, has a duty to respond to the collective cry of the society. The legislature in its wisdom has conferred discretion on the Court but the duty of the court in such a situation becomes more difficult and complex. It has to exercise discretion on reasonable and rational parameters. The discretion cannot be allowed to yield to fancy or notion.
"A judge has to keep in mind the paramount concept of rule of law and the conscience of the collective and balance it with the principle of proportionality but when the discretion is exercised in a capricious manner, it tantamounts to relinquishment of duty and reckless abandonment of responsibility," a bench of justices Dipak Misra and P C Pant said.
The judgement assumes significance as it was delivered on a day when another bench allowed real estate barons Sushil and Gopal Ansal to walk free on payment of Rs 60 crore as fine in the 1997 Uphaar fire case, sparking a debate over the award of adequate sentence in proportion to the offence.
Finding fault with the High Court's decision, the bench said it is really "unfathomable" that the HC observed that no useful purpose would be serve by sending the accused to jail for undergoing their remaining sentences of imprisonment, for the High Court itself has recorded that the appellants had remained in custody only for four months and 20 days.
"The approach of the High Court, as the reasoning would show, reflects more of a casual and fanciful one rather than just one," it said.
The verdict, penned by Justice Misra, talked about the the doctrine of proportionality to stress that the punishment should be commensurate with the offence.
The apex court, while upholding the trial court verdict in the abetment of suicide case, asked the three convicts to surrender forthwith to undergo the remaining jail term.
"One cannot remain a total alien to the demand of the socio-cultural milieu, regard being had to the command of law and also brush aside the agony of the victim or the survivors of the victim. Society waits with patience to see that justice is done. There is a hope on the part of the society and when the criminal culpability is established and the discretion is irrationally exercised by the court, the said hope is shattered and the patience is wrecked.
"It is the duty of the court not to exercise the discretion in such a manner as a consequence of which the expectation inherent in patience, which is the 'finest part of fortitude' is destroyed.
"A Judge should never feel that the individuals who constitute the society as a whole is imperceptible to the exercise of discretion. He should always bear in mind that erroneous and fallacious exercise of discretion is perceived by a visible collective," the verdict said.