The Requirement of Sentencing Guidelines in the Indian Administration of Criminal Justice


After reflecting on the contemporary challenges facing the Indian administration of criminal law, there is the lack of sentencing guidelines. Several committees as well as higher courts have also recognized this problem of lack of sentencing guidelines in a country as diverse as India.

Sentencing guidelines are a set of rules used to ensure consistent and consistent sentencing policies within a jurisdiction. In the Indian criminal justice system, judges have the discretion to determine the sentence to be given to the criminal, after considering mitigating and aggravating factors. Sometimes it creates a good impact on the society, however, many times it can be seen that the punishments given are also arbitrary and unfair. This can lead to victimization and injustice towards the victim’s family. The adoption of sentencing guidelines is one way of applying the determinate sentence. Sentencing guidelines are a set of recommended sentences based on the nature of the offense and the characteristics of the offender.[1]as;

  • Offense characteristics – Most guideline systems contain criteria for classifying the seriousness of offences. This rating generally depends on how the law defines the offence, not on the degree of vacancy or how a specific person committed a specific crime. The theft of an uninhabited structure, for example, would be considered less serious than an assault with a weapon.
  • Offender characteristics – Offender characteristics are characteristics that distinguish one offender from another. The number and type of past offenses (i.e., felonies, misdemeanors, juvenile judgments) or whether the offender was in custody at the time of the offense are just a few examples (e.g., probation or prison).

The majority of sentencing guidelines allow starting sentences. A deviation is just a sentence that differs from the sentence suggested in the guidelines. It may be more severe than the guidelines require (for example, imposing a prison sentence when the guidelines require probation or imposing a longer prison term than recommended), or it may be less severe than the guidelines require (eg, impose probation when the recommendations recommend prison or impose a shorter prison term, which means a shorter prison term than recommended). These are mainly based on; how the offense has affected society as a whole and whether or not the offender can be reformed.

The 47th Laws Commission in 1972, headed by Mr. Gajendra Gadkar, submitted a report on sentencing requirements in which it stated several requirements to be considered before passing sentence.[2]. Those are;

  • The nature of the offense
  • The circumstances – mitigating or aggravating – of the offense
  • The offender’s prior criminal record, if applicable
  • The age of the offender
  • The offender’s employment or social record
  • The offender’s background (education, home life, sobriety and social adjustment, etc.)
  • The emotional and threatening nature of the offender
  • The perspective of rehabilitation and restoration
  • The possibility of treatment or training for the offender
  • deterrence of punishment

The Malimath Committee (Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System), 2003[3] also suggested the urgent need for sentencing guidelines. They also suggested the formation of a statutory committee. This was also supported by the Madhava Menon Committee (Committee on National Criminal Justice Policy Project), where he also advised uniform sentencing guidelines. The then justice minister in 2010 said India was also planning to establish a “uniform sentencing guidelines policy” like the US and UK.[4].

The Indian Penal Code describes the offenses and the penalties that accompany them. Only the maximum penalty is specified for some offences, and only the minimum penalty is specified for others. The judge has great freedom to decide on the sentence, as long as it remains within the legal limits. The judge is no longer guided in deciding the most appropriate sanction in light of the facts of the case. Accordingly, each judge is free to make decisions based on their own judgement. As a result, there is a complete lack of continuity. The greater the discretion, the more the judgment will be arbitrary. Instead of depending on court rules, any formal guideline or legislative requirement that specifically specifies the range of sentences should be the ideal choice for India, because in the absence of any guideline, the parties do not feel justified and then ask redress in higher courts. . As a result, the court decision is postponed and prompt justice is not delivered in a timely manner.

Five men, including two minors, raped a child in the Shakti Mills rape case [39 (1997) 2 SCC 453][5]. Under the new section 376E of the Indian Penal Code, the three owners of the company were sentenced to death. The court was tough on the defendants in this case; they had already been sentenced to life in a previous rape case and had been allowed to die for this crime at the time of the crime. Many prisoners have a socio-economic history of juvenile delinquency or criminal offence, as well as difficulties. Despite the heinous details of the 2006 Khairlanji incident, which included a mob stripping a mother and daughter of their integrity in the marketplace and a gruesome assault resisting the injection of objects into their genitals, it was a mistake for people in that part of society. demonize those of the older generation[6]. This crime was no less heinous than Shakti Mills because it targeted an entire society, a diverse community, rather than a single person. However, the defendants in this case received only life sentences. People of lower socio-economic status were targeted and those found guilty of a crime were sent to the penal colony.

This lack of immediacy and inconsistency in sentencing opens the door for offenders to manipulate the judiciary and evade appropriate punishment. With sentencing guidelines in place, the courts will be able to respond to the community’s regular calls for justice. Judges must be able to impose sentences that are fair and proportionate to the crime committed. Retributive and just desert theories of penal punishment can only be upheld in this way. Therefore, it may be a good time to have an appropriate, systematic, analyzed and structured uniform guideline for criminal cases to be followed by all higher and lower courts.

There are several reasons to follow the sentencing guidelines.

  1. Rational and consistent – Sentencing decisions should be well documented and based on clearly defined sentencing standards that are consistently applied by the judiciary.
  2. Proportionality – The severity of the sentence should be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, taking into account the facts of each case.
  3. Uniformity – For identical crimes, the same perpetrators should face similar consequences.
  4. Ensure public safety – Proposed sentences should ensure that violent criminals are sentenced to prison and address not only the sentence that the offender deserves, but also the sentence that will aid in the rehabilitation and reintegration of the offender in the society.

The author is a Assistant Professor at KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. Views are personal.


Dr Justice VS Malimath, ‘Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System’, vol I (2003)

‘Khairlanji: Crime and Punishment’ The Hindu newspaper (November 10, 2016) 1

Law Commission of India, ‘Report No. 47 (The Trial and Punishment of Social and Economic Offences)’ (1972)

Lubitz RL and Ross TW, “About This Series Sentencing Guidelines: Thoughts for the Future” [2001] Executive Session Papers on Sentencing and Corrections

SFR and Lyn MK, ‘What Are Sentencing Guidelines?’ (Sentencing Guidelines Resource CenterMarch 21, 2018) 1

[1] Frase Richard S and Mitchell Kelly Lyn, ‘What Are the Sentencing Guidelines?’ (Sentencing Guidelines Resource CenterMarch 21, 2018) 1 .

[2] Law Commission of India, ‘Report No. 47 (The Trial and Punishment of Social and Economic Crimes)’ (1972).

[3] Dr Justice VS Malimath, ‘Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System’, vol I (2003) .

[4] Robin L Lubitz and Thomas W Ross, “About This Series Sentencing Guidelines: Thoughts for the Future” [2001] Papers from Executive Sessions on Sentencing and Corrections.

[6] ‘Khairlanji: Crime and Punishment’ The Hindu newspaper (November 10, 2016) 1 .


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