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Glare on Nagaland courts

Guwahati, March 7: Gauhati High Court has taken a grim view of some subordinate courts in Nagaland awarding punishment that is not commensurate with the crime.

The matter came to light after the high court recently issued an official circular in this regard, a copy of which is with The Telegraph.

The circular, signed by registrar (vigilance) of the high court, Robin Phukan, said it had come to the notice of the high court that some judicial officers of the subordinate judiciary in Nagaland have awarded punishment to the accused in some cases, which is not according to the punishment prescribed by relevant sections of law.

The issue has raised eyebrows in legal circles. A copy of the circular has been marked to the registrar of the Kohima bench of Gauhati High Court, with a direction to bring it to the notice of all the judicial officers of Nagaland.

A copy was also marked to the secretary of the department of justice and law of the Nagaland government.

Gauhati High Court has jurisdiction over four states — Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.

“It is for general information that henceforth, all judicial officers in Nagaland shall try cases and pass orders or deliver judgment in cases and award punishment in accordance with the provision of law,” the circular said. “Any deviation from this will be viewed seriously,” it added.

Awarding punishment not commensurate with the crime also violates Supreme Court guidelines. The apex court had ruled that punishment should be decided only by taking into account the nature of the offence and accused.

The ruling was made by a Supreme Court bench of Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya and Justice Ranjan Gogoi in October last year.

A judicial officer in Assam told The Telegraph that awarding a suitable sentence depends on many factors. “The determination of appropriate punishment after the conviction of an offender is often a question of great difficulty and always requires careful consideration. The law prescribes the nature and the limit of the punishment permissible for an offence, but the court has to determine in each case a sentence suited to the offence and the offender.”

He pointed out that the maximum punishment prescribed by the law for any offence is intended for the gravest of its kind and it is rarely necessary in practice to go up to the maximum. “The measure of punishment in any particular instance depends on a variety of considerations such as the motive for the crime, its gravity, character of the offender, his age, antecedents and other extenuating or aggravating circumstances, such as sudden temptation, previous convictions, which have all to be carefully weighed by the court in passing the sentence.”