Two judgements given on the same day by the Bombay High Court have brought to light the mitigating and the aggravating factors that influence judgments. In one case, the two-member division bench reduced the death penalty given to three men who gang-raped a 22-year-old woman at the defunct Shakti Mills compound, to life imprisonment. The judges believe that the three “deserve imprisonment for life to repent the offence committed by them, as death puts an end to the concept of repentance”. They will have to spend the rest of their life in jail without any remission or furlough or parole. The judges did not consider the case the rarest of rare cases where their death by hanging was warranted. Such a death would not give them an opportunity to repent for what they did to the hapless girl. By ruling out remissions and paroles, the court does not want them to enjoy life outside of the jail environment. Come to think of it, it is a worse punishment than death penalty. For instance, there were many who felt that the Pakistani terrorist who was caught alive during the Mumbai attack deserved a similar punishment, as he had come to give up his life.
In another case, a man who raped a minor girl in Thane in 2013 was given death penalty. He did not deserve to live as he had shown no mercy to the child when he used her to satisfy his lust. The question that shook the judges, as indeed anyone who knew about the case, was how the fellow ravaged an innocent child who was playing in abandon. That he was the father of two girls and a boy made his crime graver and the rarest of rare, deserving no mercy. To expect him to repent was also to ask for the moon.
With life imprisonment becoming the norm in heinous crimes, the courts are increasingly making life imprisonment, imprisonment for life. Earlier, those awarded life imprisonment did not have to spend more than10 years, as they were entitled to remissions for good conduct and other reasons. As a result, life imprisonment lost much of its deterrence value. The two judgements are welcome as they underscore the point that certainty of punishment, rather than severity of punishment, is a greater deterrent for the criminals. Justice has been tempered with mercy and severity in these cases.