NEW DELHI (TIP): In a fresh set of guidelines, the Supreme Court has asked trial courts and high courts to apply the principle of aggravating and mitigating factors — meant for commuting or upholding the death penalty — in dowry death cases which attract only imprisonment, ranging from a minimum of seven years to a maximum of life term under Section 304-B IPC. The guidelines are part of the effort to evolve standardised jurisprudential principles to replace the “highly individualised and judge-centric” sentencing, thereby minimising the “uncertainty” over the quantum of punishment, a Bench comprising Justices SJ Mukhopadhaya and Ranjan Gogoi explained. Applying the new principles, the Bench reduced the life sentence awarded to one Sunil Dutt Sharma in a case of dowry death which had happened in Delhi in May 1992 within two years of his marriage.
Under the fresh guidelines, the Bench has advised the judiciary to first apply the principle of seven aggravating and five mitigating factors evolved by the Supreme Court over the years and culled out in a recent verdict — Shankar Kisanrao Khade vs State of Maharashtra. The Bench said it saw no reason as to why the principles of sentencing evolved by the Supreme Court in death penalty cases would not be applicable to cases involving lesser sentences extending from a single day to life term, particularly in the absence of sentencing guidelines in the statute. Unlike in some foreign jurisdictions where such principles were part the law, in India, it was left to the judiciary to evolve the principles, it noted. Second, the quantum of sentence should not be guided by the necessity to combat the menace of demand for dowry or to prevent atrocities on women and other social evils or to maintain the purity of social conscience as such factors were equally applicable to other crimes as well, the Supreme Court said. “The search for principles to satisfy the crime test in an offence under Section 304-B IPC must therefore lie elsewhere,” it explained.