Women criminals can be shown leniency, says SC
NEW DELHI: Even though gender is not a mitigating factor when it comes to punishment for criminal acts, the Supreme Court said that in the Indian context, a woman convict having three minor children to support would be a ground for courts to impose a lenient sentence on her.
But, mercy or compassion may not be shown in case of a woman who has committed a crime as part of a terrorist group, the court said.
A woman helped a man rob another of Rs 27,000 by administering drinks laced with sedatives in August 2000. Thereafter, the victim was beaten up badly and left at a place near Himachal’s Dalhousie. The woman was convicted for the offence, which is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years.
A Chamba trial court took note that the woman had three kids, two of whom were mentally unsound. In 2003, it awarded a sentence of two years in jail to her with a fine of Rs 6,000. After nine years, the Himachal HC took a further lenient view and erased the sentence and substituted it with a fine of Rs 30,000. The state government appealed against this in the SC.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, through separate yet concurring judgments recently, agreed that slight leniency for women criminals was justified in the Indian context but it should not be to an extent to completely erase the trial court’s already lenient two-year sentence.
Debating between deterrence and reformative mechanisms to quantify sentence, Justice Sikri said, “When the Indian Penal Code provides discretion to Indian judges in awarding sentence, the court will undoubtedly regard extenuating and mitigating circumstances.”
Referring to the two mitigating circumstances canvassed by the convict — she being a woman and having to support three minor children — Justice Sikri said, “In this backdrop, the question is as to whether the respondent being a lady and having three minor children will be extenuating reasons? …In so far as Indian judicial mind is concerned, I find that in certain decisions of this court, gender is taken as the relevant circumstance while fixing the quantum of sentence. I may add that it would depend upon the facts of each case, whether it should be treated as a relevant consideration and no hard and fast rule can be laid down.” Justice Sikri restored the trial court’s lenient sentence of two imprisonment to the woman.