Trial Courts Have To Clearly Specify Whether Sentences Would Run Concurrently Or Consecutively: Supreme Court

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Trial Courts Have To Clearly Specify Whether Sentences Would Run Concurrently Or Consecutively

Case: Sunil Kumar @ Sudhir Kumar Vs. State Of Uttar Pradesh

Coram: Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose

Case No: Criminal Appeal No. 526 of 2021

Court Observation: “Thus, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that Section 31(1) CrPC vests complete discretion with the Court to order the sentences for two or more offenses at one trial to run concurrently having regard to the nature of offenses and the surrounding factors. Even though it cannot be said that consecutive running is the normal rule but, it is also not laid down that multiple sentences must run concurrently. There cannot be any straitjacket approach in the matter of exercise of such discretion by the Court, but this discretion has to be judiciously exercised with reference to the nature of the offence/s committed and the facts and circumstances of the case. However, if the sentences (other than life imprisonment) are not provided to run concurrently, one would run after the other, in such order as the Court may direct.”

“For what has been provided in Section 31(1) CrPC read with the expositions of this Court, it follows that the Court of the first instance is under legal obligation while awarding multiple sentences to specify in clear terms as to whether they would run concurrently or consecutively.”

“As noticed, if the Court of the first instance does not specify the concurrent running of sentences, the inference, primarily, is that the Court intended such sentences to run consecutively, though, as aforesaid, the Court of the first instance ought not to leave this matter for deduction at the later stage. Moreover, if the Court of the first instance is intending 10 consecutive runs of sentences, there is yet another obligation on it to state the order (i.e., the sequence) in which they are to be executed. The disturbing part of the matter herein is that not only the Trial Court omitted to state the requisite specifications, but even the High Court also missed out on such flaws in the order of the Trial Court.”

“Even when we find the aforementioned shortcomings in the orders passed by the Trial Court as also by the High Court, the question is as to whether the sentences awarded to the appellants could be considered as running concurrently? As noticed, the omission to state whether the sentences awarded to the accused would run concurrently or would run consecutively essentially operates against the accused because, unless stated so by the Court, multiple sentences run consecutively, as per the plain language of Section 31(1) CrPC read with the expositions in Muthuramalingam and O.M. Cherian (supra). The other omission to state the order of consecutive running cannot ipso facto lead to the concurrent running of sentences.”

“Faced with the position that the stated omissions will not, by themselves, provide a room for concurrent running of sentences, learned counsel for the appellants has endeavored to invoke the ‘single transaction’ principle. In our view, the said principle is essentially referable to Section 220 CrPC, which provides that if more offenses than one are committed in one series of acts so connected together as to form the same transaction, then the accused may be charged with and tried at one 11 trial for every such offense. In a given case, after such a trial for multiple offenses, if the accused is convicted and awarded different punishments, concurrent running thereof may be provided depending on the facts and the relevant surrounding factors. We are afraid, the principle related with ‘single transaction cannot be imported for dealing with the question at hand.”

“While closing on the matter, we deem it appropriate to reiterate what was expounded in the case of Nagaraja Rao (supra), that it is legally obligatory upon the Court of the first instance while awarding multiple punishments of imprisonment, to specify in clear terms as to whether the sentences would run concurrently or consecutively. It needs hardly an emphasis that any omission to carry out this obligation by the Court of the first instance causes unnecessary and avoidable prejudice to the parties, be it the accused or be it the prosecution.”

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