SC: Punishment shouldn’t be deterrent

Any suspicion of leniency from the court would compromise the public’s faith in judiciary: SC

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is no scope for a public official convicted of corruption to reform, and his punishment under the country’s anti-corruption law is meant to reflect the public’s abhorrence for his crime, the Supreme Court has held.

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In a short judgment analysing the penological philosophy behind punishment for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the apex court observed that there is no room for sympathy or leniency towards a public servant convicted of corruption. In fact, the 1988 statute does not even give scope for a corrupt public servant to reform, the judgment said.

The 11-page verdict delivered by a three-judge bench recently reasons that once a public official is convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, he automatically loses his job. This situation affords him no second chance to redeem his conduct in public life.

The bench comprising Justices T.S. Thakur, Kurian Joseph and R. Banumathi said the only objective of punishment under the Prevention of Corruption Act is deterrence and denunciation.

The verdict, authored by Justice Joseph for the bench, said courts cannot risk not making the punishment “appropriately deterrent”. Any suspicion of leniency or sympathy from the court to a convicted public servant would compromise the public’s faith in judiciary, the Supreme Court cautioned. “The judgment on sentence shall not shock the common man. It should reflect the public abhorrence of the crime. Misplaced sympathy or unwarranted leniency will send a wrong signal to the public, giving room to suspect institutional integrity, affecting credibility of its verdict,” Justice Joseph observed.

The 1988 Act was amended last year to increase the punishment for corruption. Minimum punishment under Section 7 (public servant taking gratification other than legal remuneration) of the Act has been raised from six months to three years and maximum punishment from five years in jail to seven years.

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Under Section 13 (criminal misconduct by a public servant), the punishment was raised from one year to four years and the maximum to 10 years and fine.

The judgment dealt with the case of a police officer who was caught red-handed taking a bribe of Rs. 25,000 in January 2001.

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