Mithu v. State of Punjab

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/04/1983

COURT: Supreme Court of India

JUDGES: Chandrachud, Y.D., Fazalali Syed Murtaza, Tulzapurkar V.D., Reddy, O. Chinnappa, Varadarajan A.

REFERENCE: 1983 AIR 473

PARTIES

Petitioner: Mithu

Respondent: State of Punjab

SUBJECT: The judgment revolves around the question of whether section 303 of the Indian Penal Code is constitutionally valid?

FACTS: The petitioners in the instant case challenged the validity of Section 303 of IPC stating that it violated right to equality under the Constitution.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

The Indian Constitution:

  • Article 14: The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India

The Indian Penal Code:

  • Section 303: Whoever, being under sentence of imprisonment for life, commits murder, shall be punished with death.
ISSUES:

1. Whether section 303 of the Indian Penal Code is constitutionally valid?

JUDGEMENT:

The petitioners contended that, as per section 302 IPC if a person commits murder, he is either given life imprisonment or death sentence depending upon the gravity of the offence but for a similar offence committed by a life convict under section 303 IPC the Court is not given an option but to award death sentence alone. Therefore, section 303 IPC makes an unreasonable classification among persons who commit murder without considering the gravity of the offence. Further the provision has no rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the legislation in question.

The respondents contended that, the validity of death sentence is upheld by the SC in the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, therefore the punishment prescribed is valid.

Upon hearing the parties, the Court held that, section 303 IPC makes an unreasonable classification of persons who commit murder when under life sentence and persons who commit murder when not under life sentence as the resultant act is the same in both categories. Motive behind the offence might vary from convict to convict but does not depend on the fact if he is awarded with life imprisonment or not. A mandatory award of death sentence under section 303 IPC disregarding the gravity of the offence committed has no rational nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the legislation therefore Court declared section 303 IPC as unconstitutional.

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