"3. The appellants were tried for several offences including an offence punishable under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short, “the IPC”) for several murders allegedly committed by them in a single incident. They were found guilty and sentenced to suffer varying sentences, including a sentence of imprisonment for life for each one of the murders committed by them. What is important is that the sentence of imprisonment for life for each one of the murders was directed to run consecutively. The result was that the appellants were to undergo consecutive life sentences ranging between two to eight such sentences depending upon the number of murders committed by them. Criminal appeals preferred against the conviction and the award of consecutive life sentences having failed, the appellants have filed the present appeals to assail the judgments and orders passed by the courts below."
“31. Sentences in cases of conviction of several offences at one trial.
(1) When a person is convicted at one trial of two or more offences, the Court may, subject to the provisions of section 71 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), sentence him for such offences, to the several punishments prescribed therefor which such Court is competent to inflict; such punishments when consisting of imprisonment to commence the one after the expiration of the other in such order as the Court may direct, unless the Court directs that such punishments shall run concurrently.
(2) In the case of consecutive sentences, it shall not be necessary for the Court by reason only of the aggregate punishment for the several offences being in excess of the punishment which it is competent to inflict on conviction of a single offence, to send the offender for trial before a higher Court:
(3) For the purpose of appeal by a convicted person, the aggregate of the consecutive sentences passed against him under this section shall be deemed to be a single sentence.”Provided that-
(a) in no case shall such person be sentenced to imprisonment for longer period than fourteen years;
(b) the aggregate punishment shall not exceed twice the amount of punishment which the Court is competent to inflict for a single offence.
"17. The legal position is, thus, fairly well settled that imprisonment for life is a sentence for the remainder of the life of the offender unless of course the remaining sentence is commuted or remitted by the competent authority. That being so, the provisions of Section 31 under Cr.P.C. must be so interpreted as to be consistent with the basic tenet that a life sentence requires the prisoner to spend the rest of his life in prison. Any direction that requires the offender to undergo imprisonment for life twice over would be anomalous and irrational for it will disregard the fact that humans like all other living beings have but one life to live. So understood Section 31 (1) would permit consecutive running of sentences only if such sentences do not happen to be life sentences. That is, in our opinion, the only way one can avoid an obvious impossibility of a prisoner serving two consecutive life sentences.
20. ... In the cases at hand, the appellants were not convicts undergoing life sentence at the time of commission of multiple murders by them. Their cases, therefore, fall more appropriately under Section 31 of the Code which deals with conviction of several offences at one trial. Section 31(1) deals with and empowers the Court to award, subject to the provisions of Section 71 of the IPC, several punishments prescribed for such offences and mandates that such punishments when consisting of imprisonment shall commence one after the expiration of the other in such order as the Court may direct unless the Court directs such punishments shall run concurrently. The power to award suitable sentences for several offences committed by the offenders is not and cannot be disputed. The order in which such sentences shall run can also be stipulated by the Court awarding such sentences. So also the Court is competent in its discretion to direct that punishment awarded shall run concurrently not consecutively. The question, however, is whether the provision admits of more than one life sentences running consecutively. That question can be answered on a logical basis only if one accepts the truism that humans have one life and the sentence of life imprisonment once awarded would require the prisoner to spend the remainder of his life in jail unless the sentence is commuted or remitted by the competent authority. That, in our opinion, happens to be the logic behind Section 427 (2) of the Cr.P.C. mandating that if a prisoner already undergoing life sentence is sentenced to another imprisonment for life for a subsequent offence committed by him, the two sentences so awarded shall run concurrently and not consecutively. Section 427 (2) in that way carves out an exception to the general rule recognised in Section 427 (1) that sentences awarded upon conviction for a subsequent offence shall run consecutively. The Parliament, it manifests from the provisions of Section 427 (2), was fully cognizant of the anomaly that would arise if a prisoner condemned to undergo life imprisonment is directed to do so twice over. It has, therefore, carved out an exception to the general rule to clearly recognise that in the case of life sentences for two distinct offences separately tried and held proved the sentences cannot be directed to run consecutively. The provisions of Section 427 (2) apart, in Ranjit Singh’s case (supra), this Court has in terms held that since life sentence implies imprisonment for the remainder of the life of the convict, consecutive life sentences cannot be awarded as humans have only one life. That logic, in our view, must extend to Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. also no matter Section 31 does not in terms make a provision analogous to Section 427 (2) of the Code. The provision must, in our opinion, be so interpreted as to prevent any anomaly or irrationality. So interpreted Section 31 (1) must mean that sentences awarded by the Court for several offences committed by the prisoner shall run consecutively (unless the Court directs otherwise) except where such sentences include imprisonment for life which can and must run concurrently. We are also inclined to hold that if more than one life sentences are awarded to the prisoner, the same would get super imposed over each other. This will imply that in case the prisoner is granted the benefit of any remission or commutation qua one such sentence, the benefit of such remission would not ipso facto extend to the other.
25. While we have no doubt about the correctness of the proposition that two life sentences cannot be directed to run consecutively, we do not think that the reason for saying so lies in the proviso to Section 31 (2). Section 31(2) of the Cr.P.C. deals with situations where the Court awarding consecutive sentences is not competent to award the aggregate of the punishment for the several offences for which the prisoner is being sentenced upon conviction. A careful reading of sub-Section (2) would show that the same is concerned only with situations where the Courts awarding the sentence and directing the same to run consecutively is not competent to award the aggregate of the punishment upon conviction for a single offence. The proviso further stipulates that in cases falling under sub-section (2), the sentence shall in no case go beyond 14 years and the aggregate punishment shall not exceed twice the amount of punishment which the Court is competent to award. Now in cases tried by the Sessions Court, there is no limitation as to the Court’s power to award any punishment sanctioned by law including the capital punishment. Sub-section (2) will, therefore, have no application to a case tried by the Sessions Court nor would Sub-section (2) step in to forbid a direction for consecutive running of sentences awardable by the Court of Session."
"31. In conclusion our answer to the question is in the negative. We hold that while multiple sentences for imprisonment for life can be awarded for multiple murders or other offences punishable with imprisonment for life, the life sentences so awarded cannot be directed to run consecutively. Such sentences would, however, be super imposed over each other so that any remission or commutation granted by the competent authority in one does not ipso facto result in remission of the sentence awarded to the prisoner for the other.
32. We may, while parting, deal with yet another dimension of this case argued before us namely whether the Court can direct life sentence and term sentences to run consecutively. That aspect was argued keeping in view the fact that the appellants have been sentenced to imprisonment for different terms apart from being awarded imprisonment for life. The Trial Court’s direction affirmed by the High Court is that the said term sentences shall run consecutively. It was contended on behalf of the appellants that even this part of the direction is not legally sound, for once the prisoner is sentenced to undergo imprisonment for life, the term sentence awarded to him must run concurrently. We do not, however, think so. The power of the Court to direct the order in which sentences will run is unquestionable in view of the language employed in Section 31 of the Cr.P.C. The Court can, therefore, legitimately direct that the prisoner shall first undergo the term sentence before the commencement of his life sentence. Such a direction shall be perfectly legitimate and in tune with Section 31. The converse however may not be true for if the Court directs the life sentence to start first it would necessarily imply that the term sentence would run concurrently. That is because once the prisoner spends his life in jail, there is no question of his undergoing any further sentence. Whether or not the direction of the Court below calls for any modification or alteration is a matter with which we are not concerned. The Regular Bench hearing the appeals would be free to deal with that aspect of the matter having regard to what we have said in the foregoing paragraphs."