19 Jan 2121

Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 is a discretionary provision that allows the Court to release the convicts on probation of good conduct - Supreme Court of India

Case : Lakhvir Singh Etc. v. The State of Punjab & Anr. Criminal Appeal Nos. 47-48 of 2021

Court : Supreme Court of India

Bench : Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy

Decided on : 19 Jan 2121

Relevant Statutes

Sections 34, 307, 382 and 397 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Sections 4, 6 and 18 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958

Section 360 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Brief Facts and Procedural History

1. On 14.02.2003, at around 7.30 p.m., the appellants along with co-accused Gurpreet Singh approached the complainant, Amrik Singh (PW1) to hire a taxi to go to a village. At their behest the taxi was stopped, Gurpreet Singh caught hold of the complainant and the appellant Jagdeep Singh took a dagger and inflicted 6-7 injuries on his forehead. Appellant Lakhvir Singh inflicted 2-3 injuries on his abdomen and 1 injury on his neck using a knife. The appellants and co-accused threw him out of the taxi and fled with the taxi.

2. The appellants were youngsters aged 20 and 19 years when the offence was committed.

3. The complainant reported the crime. An FIR was registered on 15.02.2003 under Section 382 and Section 307 read with Section 34 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. Knife and dagger were recovered along with the taxi and the trial Court framed charges under Section 397 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

4. The trial Court convicted the appellants and sentenced them to undergo Rigorous Imprisonment of 7 years each.

5. The co-accused faced trial before a Juvenile Court.

6. The appeal preferred by the appellants was dismissed.

7. The appellants then approached the Supreme Court by a special leave petition. The compromise deed arrived at between the complainant and the appellants were annexed along, whereof the complainant stated that he did not want to pursue any action against the appellants and had no objection to their release on bail or acquittal. The appellants had already served about 50% of their sentence while in custody.

Issue of the Case

Whether the appellants are entitled to be released under the relevant provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958?

The Observations of the Court

The Honourable Supreme Court observed that:

1. The purpose of Section 6 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 was reformative. It was enacted as a special provision to prevent the confinement of young persons under 21 years of age in jail, to protect them from the pernicious influence of hardened criminals. [Ishar Das v. State of Punjab, (1973) 2 SCC 65].

2. Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 could come 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. Also, the “notwithstanding” contained in Section 4 permits, despite anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, 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. In this regard, under Section 4(2), before making any order under Section 4(1), the court is required to take into consideration the report, if any, of the probation officer concerned in relation to the case. Section 4 is a discretionary provision.

3. However, the sentencing order was passed by the trial court noting that the appellants committed an offence of serious nature against a poor person and were thus disentitled from the benefits under Section 6 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 or under Section 360 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

4. The appellants were under 21 years of age on the date of the offence and not on the date of conviction, thus Section 6 would not come to their aid.

5. It was observed in Ramji Missar v. State of Bihar, AIR 1963 SC 1088 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. This aspect is confirmed by Section 18 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.

6. In State v. Ratan Lal Arora, (2004) 4 SCC 590 it was opined that the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 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.

7. It was observed in State of Madhya Pradesh v. Vikram Das, (2019) 4 SCC 125 that the court cannot award a sentence less than the mandatory sentence prescribed by the statute. However, the benefit of probation under the said Act is not excluded by the provisions of the mandatory minimum sentence under Section 397 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 for the offence in the present case.

8. The appellants had not served out the minimum sentence of 7 years though they had served about half the sentences. They were aged under 19 & 20 years of age as on the date of offence but not on the date of sentence. The person, who suffered probably, had forgiven them, possibly over time. There was no adverse report against them about their conduct in jail. The Supreme Court thus, found this case fit enough to extend the benefit of probation to the appellants in view of the provisions of Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 on completion of half the sentence.

The Decision Held by the Court

The Supreme Court held that,

1. The appellants were ordered to be released on probation of good conduct under Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 on their completion of half the sentence and on their entering into a bond with two sureties each to ensure that they maintain peace and good behaviour for the remaining part of their sentence, failing which they can be called upon to serve that part of the sentence.

2. The parties had to bear their costs.

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