Life imprisonment implies a jail term for the convict's entire life, the Supreme Court has held, clearing a misconception on this sentence.
The apex court also said that its Constitution bench's landmark judgement of 1980 on criterion for imposing death penalty needs a "fresh look" as there has been "no uniformity" in following its principles on what constitutes "the rarest of rare" cases.
"It appears to us there is a misconception that a prisoner serving a life sentence has an indefeasible right to be released on completion of either fourteen years or twenty years imprisonment. The prisoner has no such right.
"A convict undergoing life imprisonment is expected to remain in custody till the end of his life, subject to any remission granted by the appropriate government," a bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Madan B Lokur said.
The bench, however, clarified that under remission the appropriate government cannot reduce the period of sentence less than 14 years for a life convict.
"In the case of a convict undergoing life imprisonment, he will be in custody for an indeterminate period. Therefore, remissions earned by or awarded to such a life convict are only notional. In his case, to reduce the period of incarceration, a specific order under Section 432 of the CrPC will have to be passed by the appropriate government. However, the reduced period cannot be less than 14 years as per Section 433-A of the CrPC," the apex court said.
The apex court order also seeks to put an end to the practice of en-masse release of the convicts by various governments on "festive" occasions and said each release requires a case-by-case basis scrutiny.