What does imprisonment for life mean? Bangladesh court explains

  • Staff Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-12-01 13:18:24 BdST


Bangladesh’s top court has explained that imprisonment for life prima facie means a convict will remain behind bars for the rest of his natural life.

A seven-member virtual bench led by Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain crystallised the opaque legal issue on Tuesday, disposing of a criminal review petition.

The judges, however, mentioned that life imprisonment was deemed to be equivalent to 30 years if sections 45 and 53 were considered along with sections 55 and 57 of the Penal Code and 35A of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

But the convicts sentenced to life until natural death by the court or a tribunal or the International Crimes Tribunal will not be entitled to the reduced punishment of 30 years, the judges said.

Lawyers Khandaker Mahbub Hossain and Mohammad Shishir Monir represented the defendants while Attorney General AM Amin Uddin was the state legal counsel in the case.

“Life imprisonment means a maximum sentence of 30 years. However, the review verdict by the Appellate Division states that if the court sentences someone to jail until death, then that must be followed,” the attorney general said.

Amin Uddin went on to clarify that the 30-year reduced sentence rules will not be applicable in case of convicts sentenced by the International Crimes Tribunal.

Lawyer Khandaker Mahbub said, “There were confusions about how many days life term meant; how many days a lifer needed to serve in jail. We said in the review petition that the provisions of the law stipulate 30 years of imprisonment in case of life term. Otherwise, 35A of the Code of Criminal Procedure and the provisions of other laws will get repealed.”

“The Appellate Division said in its verdict today that life imprisonment means jailing period in an individual’s natural life. But a convict will have to serve 30 years in jail according to the law. If the court or tribunal is particular on the order, then the convict must remain in jail until natural death,” he said.

He also said the defence was “fairly satisfied” with the verdict. “But jail term until death is inhumane and an old home has to be set up in the jail for the convicts jailed until death. When a person becomes too old, he or she won’t have the strength to move around. In that case, the court has to consider providing them with care.”

“I still think when the matter of imprisonment until death is raised, the court will issue the order with provisions of parole. When a person becomes frail due to old age and has difficulty moving around, currently there is a provision to set them free.”

“But after this verdict, the government will no longer be able to release them [on parole]. So we could file another petition for the court to review the matter if necessary.”

On Jul 11, the full bench of the Appellate Division led by the chief justice left the review case in CAV or curia advisari vult, reserving the verdict for a later date.

The top court held review hearings of five amici curiae - lawyers Rokon Uddin Mahmud, AF Hasan Arif, Abdur Rezak Khan, Mansurul Haque Chowdhury and Amin Uddin.

The defendant filed the review petition in 2017 claiming that the Appellate Division’s verdict that life imprisonment means jail sentence for the rest of the life of the convict was “inconsistent”.

At that time, Khandaker Mahbub, a former president of Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar Association, said, “The final judgment of a murder case [in February 2017] was in conflict with another verdict of the Appellate Division.”

While speaking at a press briefing at the Bar Association Auditorium that day, he had also said the verdict created “confusions” about the interpretations of the law. It was not delivered “with due consideration”.

In 2001, a four-member bench of the Appellate Division led by the then chief justice Surendra Kumar Sinha delivered the verdict on the appeals of two convicts in the murder case of one businessman “Zaman” in Savar.

The full verdict, which was published on the website of the Supreme Court on Apr 24, 2017, stated that imprisonment for life will be until death as per Penal Code’s sections 53 and 45.