Supreme Court forms larger bench to determine the span of life imprisonment sentence

The Supreme Court ordered the formation of a larger bench to determine the exact length for a life sentence.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, took notice of the issue while hearing a petition to reduce a convict’s life sentence into half.

Haroonul Rashid was sentenced to life imprisonment 12 times in 12 different cases of murder. He has been in jail since 1997 and has served a 22-year sentence, Rashid’s lawyer told the court while adding that the court had allowed for the 12 sentences to be served concurrently.

“Is it not a misconception that a life sentence spans over 25 years?” the chief justice asked.

“When we don’t know how long a person is going to live, how can we halve a life sentence,” he added.

“I had been waiting for a long time for a case where we could determine the span of a life sentence. In a jail sentence, days and nights are both counted. In this manner, a convict comes out within five years.

“It is time that we clear up these major misconceptions and figure out the span of a life sentence. It is a matter of public interest.”

The court issued notices to the attorney general, provincial advocate generals and prosecutor general. The court also ordered for the registrar office to fix the matter for hearing in the first week of October.

Last month, the chief justice had showed his intent reexamining the life imprisonment law “at an appropriate time”.

This is not the first time that the judiciary has made such observations. In 2004, a five-member bench heard as many as 62 appeals that urged the apex court to reinstate death penalty for convicts whose capital punishments were commuted into life imprisonment leading to their release on the basis of remission in their imprisonment periods.

Section 57 of the Pakistan Penal Code, Fractions of terms of punishment, says: “In calculating fractions of terms of punishment, imprisonment for life shall be reckoned as equivalent to imprisonment for twenty-five years.”

The Supreme Court, however, had observed in 2004 that the provisions of the aforementioned section, which reckon 25-year imprisonment as transportation for life, only stipulate the calculation of the punishment term which is necessary because certain offences are a fraction of the term of imprisonment prescribed for other offences.