The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court (SC) in its review's full judgment published Thursday said life sentence means imprisonment for 30 years, not the detention of a convict until his or her natural death in jail.
According to the Appellate Division, if any court or tribunal specifies imprisonment until death, the convict would have to remain behind bars until natural death, with no concession or benefit being granted.
After the hearing on a review petition on 1 December 2020, the Appellate Division led by the chief justice declared the "operative part" of the judgment, while the full 120-page judgment was published on the Supreme Court website Thursday with the signs of the seven judges.
According to the judgement, "Imprisonment for life prima facie means the whole of the remaining period of the convict's natural life. Imprisonment for life be deemed to equivalent to imprisonment for 30 years if sections 45 and 53 are read together along with sections 55 and 57 of the Penal Code and 35A of the Code of Criminal Procedure."
"However, in case of sentence awarded to the convict for imprisonment for life till natural death by the court/tribunal, International Crimes Tribunal under International Crimes Tribunals Act, 1973, the convict will not be entitled to get the benefit of section 35A of the Code of Criminal Procedure," it said.
The court said, "The situation has been changed or created because of enactment of new provision incorporated in section 35A of the Code of Criminal Procedure deleting the earlier provision providing that except in the case of an offence punishable only (emphasis supplied) with death, when any court finds an accused guilty of an offence and, upon conviction, sentences such accused to any term of imprisonment (emphasis supplied) it shall deduct from the sentences of imprisonment, the total period the accused may have been in custody in the meantime, in connection with that offence."
The court also said, "In view of the deletion of the words, "imprisonment for life" from the legislation enacted earlier in the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 1991 and by enacting the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2003 the legislature, who envisaged and prescribed punishment of "imprisonment for life" and used the word "shall deduct," thereby, made the provision of section 35A of the Code of Criminal Procedure mandatory and expressed its intention to give some benefit to the convicts of life imprisonment, the life convicts are entitled to get statutory deduction if they are so entitled. The purpose is clear that the convicted person is given the right to reckon the period of his sentence of imprisonment he was in custody as an under-trial prisoner."
The Appellate Division in 2017 commuted the death sentence of two convicts in a murder case to life sentence. The Supreme Court said rather than imprisonment until natural death, the life sentence indicated a jail term of 30 years.
The ruling prompted confusion amongst lawyers over the length of jail term, and subsequently a review petition was filed.
In the final verdict of the review, the Appellate Division on 1 December last year clarified the prison term.
Lawyers Khandaker Mahbub Hossain and Mohammad Shishir Monir represented the defendants while Attorney General AM Amin Uddin was the state legal counsel in the case.
The apex court heard expert opinions from four amicus curiae – AF Hassan Ariff, Rokanuddin Mahmud, Abdur Rezak Khan, and AM Amin Uddin, now attorney general, over the issue.