Written By: Sayanti Das


Life Imprisonment (otherwise called imprisonment forever, life in jail, a lifelong incarceration, imprisonment for the whole life) is any sentence of imprisonment for a wrongdoing under which indicted people are to stay in jail either for whatever remains of their regular life or until paroled.


  • Statutory Provisions in India

            Different statutes in India managing criminal law have set down provisions identifying with Life Imprisonment. A portion of the essential provisions are as per the following:

Indian Penal Code, 1860:

  • Sec55: Commutation Of Sentence of Imprisonment for Life: In every case in which sentence of 1[imprisonment] for life shall have been passed, 2[the appropriate Government] may, without the consent of the offender, commute the punishment for imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

Explanation: Sec 55, I.P.C. gives that when the sentence of imprisonment forever has been passed, the appropriate Government may without the assent of the detainee drive the punishment for imprisonment of either depiction for a term not surpassing fourteen years. This area enables the appropriate Government to drive the sentence of imprisonment of life. The exercise of such right is at the watchfulness of the suitable government. This area does not set out that life imprisonment might be a detainment for a long time and a detainee isn’t to be consequently discharged after the expiry of fourteen years of imprisonment. That is, it depends on the appropriate government to decide whether the detainee will be provided with imprisonment forever or for a period of 14 years.

  • Sec 57: Fractions Of Terms of Punishment: In calculating fractions of terms of punishment, [imprisonment] for life shall be reck­one as equivalent to  [imprisonment] for twenty years.

Explanation: Sec. 57 of I.P.C. do not state that imprisonment for life shall be reckoned as imprisonment for 20 years. A prisoner’s sentence of life imprisonment will not automatically come to an end by lapse of 20 years. It is only the government that can remit, suspend or commute the sentence.

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973:

Sec 432: Power to Suspend or Remit Sentences:

(1) When any person has been sentenced to punishment for an offense, the appropriate Government may, at any time, without Conditions or upon any conditions which the person sentenced accepts, suspend the execution of his sentence or remit the whole or any part of the punishment to which he has been sentenced.

Explanation: The question of remission of the entire sentence or part of it lies within the exclusive domain of the Government under Sec.432 of the Cr.P.C. 1973 and neither in Sec.57 of I.P.C., nor any rules or local Acts can stultify the effect of the sentence of life imprisonment given by the court under the Penal Code. The prisoner cannot be released automatically on the expiry of 20 years.

Sec. 433: Power to Commute Sentence: The appropriate Government may, without the consent of the person sentenced, commute-(a) a sentence of death, for any other punishment provided by the Indian Penal Code;(b) a sentence of imprisonment for life, for imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years or for fine;(c) a sentence of rigorous imprisonment, for simple imprisonment for any term to which that person might have been sentenced, or for fine;(d) a sentence of simple imprisonment, for fine.

That is, the appropriate Government may commute the sentence of ac life imprisonment after he had served 14 years in jail.

  • 433A: Restriction on Powers of Remission or Commutation in Certain Cases. Despite anything contained in Section 432, where a sentence of Imprisonment for life is forced on conviction of a man for an offense for which passing is one of the punishments given by law or where a sentence of death forced on a man has been driven under Section 433 into one of imprisonment forever, such individual might not be discharged from jail unless he has served no less than fourteen years of imprisonment.

The suitable Government has control under Sections 432 and 433, Cr.P.C. to suspend or transmit or drive the sentence while Section 433A of Cr. P.C. forces limitations on the forces of reduction or recompense in specific cases.

  • Statutory Provisions in other countries:

USA: In the USA, life imprisonment by and large proceeds till the detainee bites the dust. Some of the time life terms are given in sentences are lopsided to the span the detainee is relied upon to live, for instance, a 300-year sentence for different homicides. In fact, a lifelong incarceration does not generally signify “imprisonment for life.” Once a time of 10 years or more is finished, the convict can be set out on parole.

Mexico – In Mexico, life imprisonment is an uncertain sentence. Its term may run from 20 years up to a greatest of 40 years.

Germany – The German law has settled least time to be served for a sentence of life imprisonment, which is 15 years after which the detainee can apply for parole.

Australia – In Australia, the term of life imprisonment is typically 25 years.


  • As regards the nature of imprisonment, Supreme Court of India held that imprisonment in such a case meant rigorous imprisonment for life and not simple imprisonment. An accused convicted of imprisonment for life may be granted remission for good conduct. As per Sec.57, IPC, for the purpose of calculating remission, it is treated as a sentence of 20 years. (M. Nanavati v. State of Maharashtra [AIR 1962 SC 605])
  • It was held by a Constitution Bench that the meaning of a sentence of imprisonment for life is no longer res Integra. A sentence of transportation for life or imprisonment for life must, prima facie, be treated as transportation or imprisonment for the whole of the remaining period of the convicted person’s natural life. It was further held that unless the said sentence is commuted or remitted by appropriate authority under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code or the Cr.P.C. a prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment is bound in law to serve the life term in prison. (Gopal Vinayak Godse V. The State Of Maharashtra and Ors. [1961 AIR 600])
  • The Supreme Court made it clear that life imprisonment is not equivalent to imprisonment for 14 years or for 20 years. Elaborating the point further the Apex Court ruled that there is no provision either in IPC or in Cr.P.C. whereby life imprisonment could be treated as 14 years or 20 years without there being a formal remission by the appropriate government.(Kartik Biswas V Union Of India [P. 21056(W) of 2014])
  • As rightly observed by the Hon’ble Court, there is a misconception that a prisoner serving life sentence has an indefeasible right to release on completion of either 14 years or 20 years imprisonment. A convict undergoing life imprisonment is expected to remain in custody until the end of his life, subject to any remission granted by the appropriate Government under section 432 of the Code, which in turn is subject to the procedural checks mentioned in the said provision and to further substantive check-in section 433-A of the Code. (Sangeet v. State of Haryana [Criminal Appeal Nos. 490-491 of 2011])

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