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G.V Godse: AIR 1961 SC(600)

Imprisonment for life generally means that the convict will be punished with imprisonment for his life (Natural life) unless it is remitted or commuted. This interpretation was given by the court in Gopal Vinayak Godse vs State of Maharashtra where in the Supreme Court held that imprisonment for life meant imprisonment till the remainder of the life of the convict unless curtailed by any commutation/remission or reprieve according to Constitutional or statutory Law.

Judiciary propounded a special category for very few cases where the death penalty might be substituted by the imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term in excess of 14 years and to put that category beyond the application of remission. The new sentencing category was further reaffirmed by the majority in Union of India v/s V Sriharan.

However this judicial interpretation has been criticized as being violative of the basic principles of punishment i.e reformation and also for violation of the fundamental rights of prisoners under Article 14 and 21 of the constitution.

Firstly the the newly created category of sentences leaves no scope for reformation of the prisoners as he knows that he can never leaves four walls of the prison and therefore there is no willingness to change his mindset. In this case the court interpreted "imprisonment for life means euphemism of imprisonment for 14 years. The remission u/s 432 Crpc is granted only on the existence of various factors i.e behaviour, work, jail manual or approval of the judiciary.

It would not be open to the Court to make any category of sentences in substitution of the death penalty and put that category beyond application of remission nor it would be permissible to stipulate any Mandatory period of actual imprisonment inconsistent with the one prescribed u/s 433A Crpc.

The judicial response to the issue of life sentencing in V Sriharan where the Constitutional Bench upheld the special category of punishment i.e imprisonment for more than 14 years but less than the full life span of the life convict and putting it completely beyond the statutory period / remission is an attempt to crystallize certain principles as guidance for court s on sentencing policy.

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