Stricter Punishments Do Not Serve As A Deterrent To Crimes
Basil Nabi Malik analyses the CJ’s recent statement on life imprisonment law and argues that prescribing a life sentence, or even a death sentence, to any crime will merely be symbolic in nature.
The Chief Justice of Pakistan Monday observed that the term ‘life imprisonment’, as used in the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, does not refer to a 25-year jail term, and in fact, the prisoner is to serve a literal lifetime in jail. Although the CJP had indicated that the law must be revisited and reinterpreted to bring about the true meaning of the term, the said exercise was left for a future occasion.
For context, it would be relevant to mention that the term ‘life imprisonment’ has not been specifically defined in the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860.
However, amongst other things, many refer to Section 57 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, Rules 140 and 198(b) of the Pakistan Prison Rules, 1978, and Section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, to argue that life imprisonment is the equivalent of a 25 year period in jail.
Even certain Supreme Court judgments seem to add to the confusion. However, it appears that the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in one of its more detailed judgments on the issue, has already held that the term ‘life imprisonment’ is for the natural life time of the prisoner, and that the aforementioned provisions of the law only mention a specific period of imprisonment (twenty years in this case) for purposes of calculating any possible remissions that the prisoner may be given in regard to a part of his sentence. In other words, the equivalence to a specific period is limited only to and only for the purpose of working out the remissions that could be applicable.
Furthermore, as per the said judgment, a remission or decrease of sentence is usually considered to be an incentive for a prisoner to abide by the rules and regulations, be on good behaviour, and to strive to learn valuable skills so as to be a constructive member of society upon release.
It is considered pivotal in the system of imprisonment, and something for the prisoner to work towards.
This is in line with jurisprudence from India, which when faced with similar questions, had decided on the same lines. In fact, in coming to its decision, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had relied upon a holding of the Supreme Court of India.
However, despite this, there still appears to be a certain degree of confusion about the legal position of the said provisions, which is amplified by a number of pronouncements of the High Courts and the Supreme Court itself.
Therefore, keeping the above in mind, it is possible that the CJP, when commenting on the matter, was alluding to these pronouncements that are arguably in contradiction to each other, as well as perhaps the routine granting of remissions to life imprisonment prisoners by the pertinent authorities. It seems that amongst other things, the CJP may have possibly been questioning the utility, need, and allowance of such remissions.
With that said, and nevertheless, it appears that the observations of the CJP stem from what one can call a ‘deterrence approach’, that is, the stricter the laws, the less likely a person is to commit a crime. In essence, the argument is that the cost of a crime should be so exacting that the rewards of carrying it out pale in comparison to the consequences of being caught.
However, the problem with such an approach is that stricter punishments in and of themselves will not serve as a deterrent to committing a crime, nor is such a theory proven. In fact, even if correct, unless the investigation agencies are bettered in a way in which they can in fact successfully prosecute a criminal and bring them to the point of sentencing, collection of evidence is modernized, witnesses are offered substantive protection, and the quality of prosecution is enhanced manifold, no amount of stricter sentences will matter.
After all, stricter sentences can only serve as a deterrent if people actually have a fear of being convicted of the crime. Where there is no fear of conviction, there is no fear of ever having to endure such sentences, and as such, in such a scenario, prescribing a life sentence, or even a death sentence, to any crime will merely be symbolic in nature.