The life imprisonment implies a jail term till the end of convict's life and it is not limited to merely 14 or 20 years, which is a misconception, the Supreme Court has held in a significant ruling.
"It appears to us there is a misconception that a prisoner serving a life sentence has an indefeasible right to be released on completion of either fourteen years or twenty years imprisonment. The prisoner has no such right.
"A convict undergoing life imprisonment is expected to remain in custody till the end of his life, subject to any remission granted by the appropriate government," said a bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and Madan B Lokur.
The apex court also put an end to the practice of en masse release of the convicts by various governments on "festive" occasions and said each release requires a case-by-case basis scrutiny.
The bench said it is not permissible on part of courts to sentence a convict in a capital offence for 20 years or 30 years imprisonment without remission as it restrains the relevant government from granting remission on the sentence of a convict.
In its ruling, the bench expressed the view that it is not permissible for courts to nullify governments' power to grant remission on convict sentences.
"A reading of some recent decisions delivered by this court seems to suggest that the remission power of the appropriate government has effectively been nullified by awarding sentences of 20 years, 25 years and in some cases without any remission. Is this permissible? Can this Court (or any court for that matter) restrain the appropriate government from granting remission of a sentence to a convict?
"...In our opinion, this issue needs further and greater discussion, but as at present advised, we are of the opinion that this is not permissible," the bench said.
"The appropriate government cannot be told that it is prohibited from granting remission of sentence. Similarly, a convict cannot be told that he cannot apply for a remission in his sentence, whatever the reason," it said.
The bench, however, clarified that under remission the appropriate government can not reduce the period of sentence less than 14 years.
"In the case of a convict undergoing life imprisonment, he will be in custody for an indeterminate period. Therefore, remissions earned by or awarded to such a life convict are only notional. In his case, to reduce the period of incarceration, a specific order under Section 432 of the CrPC will have to be passed by the appropriate government. However, the reduced period cannot be less than 14 years as per Section 433-A of the CrPC," the apex court said.