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Brief Analysis of Section 71 of the Indian Penal Code

The Indian Penal Code, which is the official criminal code covering all aspects of criminal law, was enacted in 1860 by the Imperial Legislative Council. There are a total of 576 sections in IPC. Section 71 seeks to limit the punishment of an offence, which is made up of several offences. It states-

71. Limit of punishment of offence made up of several offences:
Where anything which is an offence is made up of parts, any of which parts is itself an offence, the offender shall not be punished with the punishment of more than one of such his of­fences, unless it be so expressly provided. 1[Where anything is an offence falling within two or more sepa­rate definitions of any law in force for the time being by which offences are defined or punished, or where several acts, of which one or more than one would by itself or themselves constitute an offence, constitute, when combined, a different offence, the offender shall not be punished with a more severe punishment than the Court which tries him could award for any one of such offences.]

To explain further in the simplest terms possible, the section deals with an offence which constitutes many parts and every such part can be defined as an offence under different definitions available in the wide spectrum of law and says that in such a case- the offender should only be charged with only one of such offences, unless expressly provided otherwise. The Section also talks about a possibility wherein the offence committed by the offender may fall under two or more definitions of law, or parts of offence may be combined to constitute a different offence and in such a scenario- the Court trying the offender is not empowered to award a punishment more severe than what it is competent of awarding. This provision of the IPC can be read with Section 31 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which provides a structure for the sentencing of offenders who have been convicted of several offences at one trial.

Illustration
One day, Mr. X spots Ms. A crossing his house and he instantly approaches her because he’s attracted to her. He makes sexual advances by flirting aggressively and is enraged when she retaliates by slapping him. Later that day, he buys a gun illegally because he plans to find an opportunity to hurt her grievously. Over the next few days, he follows her to her place of work and stands outside her house for hours. He deliberately tries to make her aware of his presence, and tries to show her subtly that he’s in possession of a gun.

Tired of being scared every day, Ms. B yells at him when she notices him lurking and insults him using crude language. Insulted by her again, next day he decides to enter Ms. B’s house and wait for her to come home. When she does come home, he grabs hold of her by her neck and proceeds to strangle her and punches her multiple times. He then takes a big knife from her kitchen, and stabs her over 20 times and shoots her twice, killing her instantly.

In this case, Mr. X is liable under several sections and this crime is made up of many parts. At first, he sexually harasses her by making sexually coloured remarks which is covered under Section 354A of IPC. He buys an illegal weapon, and then stalks her for several days in hopes of fostering a connection even after portrayal of her disinterest, which is covered under Section 354D of IPC. He’s liable under Section 445 of IPC for breaking and entering, and under Section 350 of IPC for battery as he punched her. He’s also liable for Murder under Section 302 of IPC.

However, when the Court is approached with this case, it will be in its power to make Mr. X liable for his numerous crimes but it will NOT be empowered to convict Mr. X for each of the 20 stabs and the 2 gunshots he inflicted on Ms. B, but the offence will be treated as one in its entirety instead of each stab and shot being treated as a separate offence, and he’ll be convicted for the same. Here, the offense of buying an illegal weapon and using it to murder Ms. B can be combined with the actual murder to form a conspiracy to commit murder, BUT the Court shall NOT inflict a punishment more severe than it is empowered to inflict.

In conclusion, Section 71 is a good safeguard to ensure offenders get punished for their crime within reason, and sets a limit of punishment for an offence made up of several offences.

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