While deciding the sentence in criminal cases, courts also have to decide whether this sentence will be consecutive or concurrent. When a criminal commits offence for which s/he is liable for more than one punishment, in such a case, court have to decide if his/her punishment will be consecutive or concurrent.
Consecutive means that if court gives sentence in two cases, second sentence will take effect after the expiration of first sentence.
But Concurrent means that two punishments run together. When two sentences are directed to run concurrently they do merge into one sentence.
For example, a person commits offence of house theft with grievous hurt and both offences have different punishments. So, if court gives sentence of imprisonment in both cases, in this case, if court give concurrent sentence, then his/her sentence of 20 years (supposing) for grievous hurt and theft will run together, he will pass the sentence of 20 years as a whole.
But if court give consecutive punishment, that person will have to pass sentence of theft first and then he will pass the sentence for grievous hurt.
Indian Laws on Concurrent and consecutive sentence
Section 31(1) of the Code vests a discretion in the Court to direct that the punishment shall run concurrently when a person is convicted at one trial of two or more offences.
Section 427 Cr. P.C., 1973 directs that, one sentence takes effect after the other. The sentencing Court has the discretion of direct concurrency.
427. SENTENCE ON OFFENDER ALREADY SENTENCED FOR ANOTHER OFFENCE. —
- When a person already undergoing a sentence of imprisonment is sentenced on a subsequent conviction to imprisonment or imprisonment for life, such imprisonment or imprisonment for life shall commence at the expiration of the imprisonment to which he has been previously sentenced, unless the Court directs that the subsequent sentence shall run concurrently with such previous sentence.
- When a person already undergoing a sentence of imprisonment for life is sentenced on a subsequent conviction to imprisonment for a term or imprisonment for life, the subsequent sentence shall run concurrently with such previous sentence.
The application of Section 427 will be attracted:
- When a person already undergoing a sentence of imprisonment is convicted;
- While undergoing such a sentence, such person is subsequently convicted and awarded a sentence of imprisonment including imprisonment for life;
- then such imprisonment or imprisonment for life shall commence at the expiration of the imprisonment to which he has been previously sentenced; and
- the Court directs that subsequent sentence shall run concurrently with such previous sentence.
Punishment of imprisonment of life if consecutive or concurrent
Imprisonment for life means imprisonment for the rest of life, so it is impossible to give consecutive sentence to him. When an accused is convicted of murder of two persons and sentenced to suffer imprisonment for life for each murder in the same trial, two consecutive sentences of imprisonment for life is not proper, both sentences should be ordered to run concurrently and not consecutively.
But in view of S. 31(2)(a), Cr. P.C. none can be sentenced to imprisonment for a longer period than 14 years. So, if in a case under an enactment the court on two counts sentences the convict to 14 years imprisonment and both the sentences to run consecutively, it is bad. It must run concurrently.
Interrelation between Section 427 and 31 of CrPC
In a case where a person has committed different offences and is facing one trial for committing two or more offences, even in such cases, the sentences awarded for different offences would commence one after the expiration of the other unless the Court directs that the sentence shall run concurrently.
The provisions of Section 427 would come into play obviously where the case of the convict is not covered under Section 31 and he is tried for two different offences in two different cases, one in the earlier trial and then the other in the subsequent one.
The language of the Section, therefore, clearly suggests that the person for whose benefit or otherwise the Court dealing with subsequent conviction and sentence will have jurisdiction only where the accused is a person already undergoing a sentence of imprisonment.
Punishment in default of fine: whether concurrent or consecutive
The provisions for the passing of concurrent sentences can refer only to substantive sentences and not to sentences of imprisonment in default of payment of fine. Where a court imposes two sentences of imprisonment on an accused and order him to pay fine on each of the two counts with imprisonment in default of fine, it may order the substantive terms of imprisonment to run concurrently but the terms of imprisonment in default of payment of fine must run consecutively.