NAME OF THE CASE  Mithu, etc., etc vs. State of Punjab etc., etc
CITATIONCriminal Appeal No. 745 of 1980  
APPELANTMithu, etc., etc  
RESPONDANTState of Punjab etc., etc  
BENCH/JUDGEY.V. Chandrachud (CJ), Syed Murtaza Fazal ali, V.D. Tulzapurkar, O. Chinnappa Reddy (J), A. Varadarajan (J)  
STATUTES/CONSTITUTION INVOLVEDConstitution of India; Indian Penal Code, 1860; Criminal Procedure Code, 1973  
IMPORTANT SECTIONS/ARTICLESConstitution of India, Arts. 21, Arts. 14, Arts. 32Indian Penal Code, 1860, S. 302, S. 303Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, S. 235(2), S. 354(3)


The petitioner in the current case contested the constitutionality of Section 303 on the grounds that it contravenes articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life) of the constitution. The Supreme Court of India’s constitutional bench, which consists of five judges, looked into the matter.

The majority of people believed that this clause violated the constitution’s article 14 guarantee of equality as well as article 21 right to life. Section 303 of the IPC is unconstitutional and void and is struck down and there will not be a mandatory death sentence for the crime of murder by a life offender, according to the ruling of a five-judge constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud. In other words, all murder cases would fall under Section 302 of the IPC which provides punishment for murder. 


Murder is regarded as a criminal offence in India. The IPC’s Section 302 is significant in a variety of ways. Only those who commit the crime of murder will be tried under this provision. If the murderer is found guilty of the charge, Section 302 of the IPC outlines the sentence of punishment for such murderers. “It states that whoever commits murder shall be punished with either life imprisonment or death (depending on the gravity of the murder) along with fine”.

The death sentence or death penalty, commonly referred to as capital punishment, is the most severe penalty that can be imposed on a defendant. It is applied in response to grave crimes like murder, rape, acts of terrorism, etc. When a person is deemed to be a threat to society, the state may use the death sentence to authorise the taking of that person’s life. Retributive justice is the guiding idea behind such a penalty. It suggests that someone who commits such a horrific deed must experience the same fate. It is believed that imposing the death sentence for certain offences will have the effect of making people fear what their actions could lead to. This punishment has been in existence as long as the concept of state has been in existence.

The death sentence was successfully included by the authors of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The rules have survived and are still very much in use in modern-day India with only a few minor adjustments. The IPC’s Sections 303 and 302 provide the provisions for the death punishment in murder cases. In addition to this, Section 303 mandated the death penalty for murder in cases when the criminal was already serving a life sentence. The Supreme Court declared this clause invalid in the current case.

Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 says that- “Punishment for murder by life-convict—whoever, being under sentence of (imprisonment for life), commits murder, shall be punished with death.”

The mandatory death punishment is provided for in this provision. This clause clearly specifies that the accused will receive the death penalty right away if proven guilty of murder while serving a life sentence for his crime. The fundamental requirement in this case was that the murderer must already be in the midst of a life sentence.

This clause was included to the IPC because the only punishment available if a life sentence wasn’t long enough to function as a deterrent and the offender hardened to the point of killing someone while serving that sentence was the death penalty. “The 42nd Law Commission Report has observed that the object of this section as-the primary object of making the death sentence mandatory for an offence under this section seems to be give protection to the prison staff”.

The murder of a jail employee by a life inmate was the sole scenario that the Act’s creators had in mind. This suggests that the main motivation was to safeguard the Englishmen who had been appointed as jail guards at the time. At that time, it was highly possible that indigenous people would attack white people.

 “It was presumed that this section would apply only if a person who is undergoing life imprisonment himself commits murder.”


The factual matrix, the petitioners in this case challenged the constitutionality of Section 303. According to the petitions, Section 303 is completely arbitrary and illogical, and as a result, it violates both Article 21 and Article 14 of the Constitution. It was contended that this part is unlawful since the process by which the depravation of life is authorised in it is unfair and unjust.

If the accused commits another heinous crime after serving their sentence of life in prison, their sole options for punishment are the death penalty, the death penalty with a minimum 10-year sentence, or life in prison.

In this case a person commits the offence of murder when he was in jail he gets the punishment of mandatory death penalty. This case was brought before the Supreme Court of India.


  1. Whether Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code infringes the guarantee contained in Article. 21 of the Constitution which provides that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”?
  • Does Section 303 of the IPC contradict the “right to equality” provided by Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees fundamental human rights?


  • Learned counsel for the petitioner stated that the provision contained in Section 303 of the IPC is wholly unreasonable and arbitrary and thereby, it violates Article 21 of the constitution which affords the guarantee that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law”.
  • Learned counsel for the petitioner also expressed that Section 303 of the IPC is unlawful because the process through which the deprivation of life is authorised is arbitrary and unjust.


  • Learned counsel representing the respondent rely upon the decision in Bachan Singh case [2] in support of their submission that the provision contained in Section 303 of the IPC does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity. They contend that the validity of death sentence was upheld in that case and since, Section 303 of the IPC does no more than prescribe death sentence for the offence of murder.
  • Learned counsel representing the respondent also expressed that the normal sentence for murder is life imprisonment and if the death sentence has to be imposed, the Court is under a legal obligation under Section 354(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code to state the special reasons for imposing that sentence.


  • Constitution of India
  • Article 21:- Protection of life and personal liberty. No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.[3]
  • Article 14:- Equality before law. The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.[4]
  • Article 32:- Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part
  • The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed.
  • The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part.
  • Without prejudice to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clause ( 1 ) and ( 2 ), Parliament may by law empower any other court to exercise within the local limits of its jurisdiction all or any of the powers exercisable by the Supreme Court under clause ( 2 ).
  • The right guaranteed by this article shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by this Constitution.[5]
  • Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Section 302:- Punishment for murder—whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.[6]
  • Section 303:- Punishment for murder by life-convict.—whoever, being under sentence of [imprisonment for life], commits murder, shall be punished with death.[7]
  • Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
  • Section 235(2):-  If the accused is convicted, the Judge shall, unless he proceeds in accordance with the provisions of section 360, hear the accused on the question of sentence, and then pass sentence on him according to law.[8]
  • Section 354(3):- When the conviction is for an offence punishable with death or, in the alternative, with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of years, the judgment shall state the reasons for the sentence awarded, and, in the case of sentence of death, the special reasons for such sentence.[9]


The Honorable court held that Section 303 of Penal Code violates the guarantee of equality contained in Article 14 as also the right conferred by Article 21 of the Constitution that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. The clause was initially intended to prevent life imprisonment prisoners from attacking prison employees, but the Legislature picked language that went well beyond that goal.

The court made the point that murders might be committed for a variety of motives, such as hate, lust, sex, envy, gain, retaliation, etc., and that none of them had anything to do with receiving a life sentence in prison.

The court also pointed out- “There is no comparable statistical data in our country in regard to the behaviour of life convicts who are released on parole or bail but there is no reason to assume that the incidence of murders committed by such persons is unduly high. Indeed, if there is no scientific investigation on this point in our country, there is no basis for treating such persons differently from others who commit murders.”

The court emphasised that there are around 51 sections of the IPC that allow for life imprisonment, making the required death sentence while serving a life imprisonment is illogical. Even if a person receives a life imprisonment under section 467 for forgery, breach of trust, or counterfeiting a coin, he will still be required to receive a mandatory death sentence under this section if he kills someone. There will be no consideration given to the fact that the two offences have nothing in common. Both offences would have different motivations. Therefore, the court held that “to prescribe a mandatory sentence of death for the second of such offences for the reason that the offender was under the sentence of life imprisonment for the first of such offences is arbitrary beyond the bounds of all reason”.

By referring to the case of Jagmohan Singh v. State of U.P[10], the court it was noted that Judges do have a lot of discretion when deciding the harshness of punishment, even if the rule does not provide the Court any discretion when making a judgement against a life-convict, which must only be a death sentence.

The court accept that section 303 of the IPC infringe the article 14 (right to equality) as well as article 21 of the constitution as “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedures established by the law”.

Justice Chinnappa Reddy said that “it is out of tune with the march of the times. It is out of tune with the rising tide of human consciousness. It is out of tune with the philosophy of an enlightened Constitution like ours”. Section 303 of the IPC specifically violates the Art. 21 of the constitution. Such a law must inevitably be criticised as being arbitrary and oppressive. Sec. 303 of the IPC is such a law that must be abolished like all other harmful laws. I concur with my Lord Chief Justice that Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code must be declared unconstitutional for violating the constitution.


According to me, in 1860, the death penalty statute was established. The primary purpose of Section 303of the IPC was to safeguard the rights of prison employees who were particularly susceptible to assault by Native Americans. The Indian judiciary now takes a more reformatory approach rather than punitive stance, adhering to the basic fundamental on “innocent until proven guilty”. The framers of the Act did not consider a lot of factors wile framing this Act and the only concern was the attacks on the jail officials.

A compulsory death sentence for a murder committed inside or outside of a jail by a person serving a life sentence is not justified by Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code.

[1] Author is 3rd semester student of Amity Law School, Lucknow.

[2]  Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab, AIR 1980 SC 898.

[3]  INDIA CONST. art. 21.

[4]  INDIA CONST. art. 14.

[5]  INDIA CONST. art. 32.

[6]  Indian Penal Code, 1860, §302.

[7]  Indian Penal Code, 1860, §303.

[8]  Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, §235, cl. 2, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973(India).

[9]  Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, §354, cl. 3, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973(India).

[10]  JagmohanSingh v. State of U.P, AIR 1973 SC 947.

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