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Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences in Indian Law

This article has been written by Ms. Nivedita Deepu.


In the realm of criminal justice, sentencing is a pivotal aspect of the legal process. Sentencing is a complicated procedure that seeks to balance punishment and rehabilitation while taking the offender’s particular circumstances and case history into account. The legal procedure by which a judge establishes the punishment or sentence that an individual found guilty of a crime should receive is known as sentencing. Judges take into account a number of elements when imposing a punishment, such as the type and gravity of the offense and any aggravating or mitigating elements, including guilt or lack thereof, the criminal past of the accused, the circumstances and personal background of the defendant, the victim’s reaction to the incident, any aggravating or mitigating elements, including guilt or lack thereof, mandated minimum sentences or statutory sentencing guidelines, which differ depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the offense.

‘The criminal sentencing is a complex task especially when the court is called upon to award sentencing in multiple offences committed by the convict. In such cases, the court either follows concurrent sentencing or consecutive sentencing. The consecutive sentencing implies that the convict will undergo imprisonment for one offence and thereafter for another offence and so on. On the contrary, the concurrent sentencing implies that the convict shall undergo imprisonment for all the offences in one go. The decision to award consecutive or concurrent sentencing rests with the discretion of the court.’[1]

What are the primary differences between the two?

The judge pronounces the sentence after taking into account all pertinent circumstances and arguments. The objectives of punishment, rehabilitation, deterrence, and societal protection are all meant to be balanced by this choice. If a person is found guilty of several offenses, they may be sentenced to either concurrent or consecutive terms. The court decides whether to sentence a defendant concurrently or consecutively, taking into account a number of variables, including the seriousness of the offenses, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and whether the offender poses a threat to the community. While consecutive sentences are often served one after the other, concurrent sentences are served simultaneously. The primary distinction between consecutive and concurrent sentences is that the former typically results in a convict serving a longer prison sentence, while the latter has the reverse effect. When a defendant is found guilty of more than one offense and receives a single sentence for all of them, the situation is referred to as a concurrent sentence.

Concurrent sentences are served simultaneously. Thus, in the event that an individual receives a sentence of thirty years in jail for one charge and fifteen years for another, they will serve both terms jointly and be freed from prison thirty years later.

Hence, the criminal serves both terms concurrently—the fifteen-year sentence and the thirty-year penalty—and is released at the conclusion of the longest sentence rather than serving them separately.

Conversely, consecutive sentences are imposed when a defendant is found guilty of many offenses at the same time, although they are distinct from one another. This implies that after serving out one sentence, the prisoner will begin serving the subsequent sentence. A person will serve the 12-year sentence first, followed by the 5-year sentence if they are sentenced to 12 years in jail for one charge and 5 years in prison for another. This implies that the offender will not be freed until they have completed the entirety of both terms, or 17 years in total. ‘Consecutive sentence is legally permissible and follows automatically if the court does not direct that several sentences imposed by it will run concurrently. However, it is used by courts only when the enormity of crime  at hand warrants it. Even in such cases, the courts have invariably taken the view that the longest custodial sentence subsumes the shorter ones’ [7]

Therefore, if the court grants consecutive sentences, the convicted party will be required to serve time behind bars for much longer. Judges may impose consecutive sentences under the Indian legal system, particularly in cases when the offenses are very serious or the offender has a lengthy criminal history. By ensuring that the prisoner receives a heavier sentence for repeated, distinct offenses, this strategy aims to highlight the significance of discouraging repeat criminal behavior.

Indian Laws on Concurrent and consecutive sentence

Section 31(1) of the Code vests a discretion in the Court to direct that the punishment shall run concurrently when a person is convicted at one trial of two or more offences.

Section 427 Cr. P.C., 1973 directs that, one sentence takes effect after the other. The sentencing Court has the discretion of direct concurrency. [5]

Section 31 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973

  1. Sentences in cases of conviction of several offences at one trial.

(1) When a person is convicted at one trial of two or more offences, the Court may, subject to the provisions of section 71 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860 ), sentence him for such offences, to the several punishments prescribed therefor which such Court is competent to inflict; such punishments when consisting of imprisonment to commence the one after

the expiration of the other in such order as the Court may direct, unless the Court directs that such punishments shall run concurrently.

(2) In the case of consecutive sentences, it shall not be necessary for the Court by reason only of the aggregate punishment for the several offences being in excess of the punishment which it is competent to inflict on conviction of a single offence, to send the offender for trial before a higher Court: Provided that-

(a) in no case shall such person be sentenced to imprisonment for longer period than fourteen years;

(b) the aggregate punishment shall not exceed twice the amount of punishment which the Court is competent to inflict for a single offence.

(3) For the purpose of appeal by a convicted person, the aggregate of the consecutive sentences passed against him under this section shall be deemed to be a single sentence. [6]

Understanding S. 427 (1) of CrPC

“When a person already undergoing a sentence of imprisonment is sentenced on a subsequent conviction to imprisonment or imprisonment for life, such imprisonment or imprisonment for life shall commence at the expiration of the imprisonment to which he has been previously sentenced, unless the Court directs that the subsequent sentence shall run concurrently with such previous sentence.”

So, unless otherwise indicated, the following statement flows in a sequential rather than a concurrent fashion. When a sentence is said to be consecutive, it means that it will start when the previous sentence ends. Additionally, a concurrent sentence often indicates that the sentences will continue parallelly or simultaneously.

The following will draw attention to Section 427 application:

1.When someone who is already serving a sentence of imprisonment is found guilty;

  1. While serving that sentence, that person is found guilty again and given a sentence of imprisonment, including a life sentence;
  2. that sentence of imprisonment or life sentence begins when the person’s previous sentence expires; and
  3. the court orders that the subsequent sentence run concurrently with the previous sentence. [5]

The following variables affect whether to use consecutive or concurrent sentences:

  1. Criminal History of the Defendant: The sentence judgment is influenced by the defendant’s past criminal history. In cases where the offender has a prior record of repeat offenses, the judge might be more likely to assign consecutive sentences.’ An offender’s criminal history plays an important role in sentencing in all jurisdictions. Statutory enhancements for repeat offenders exist in most countries, and there is widespread public support for harsher penalties for recidivists. Prior convictions play a vital yet variable role in the sentencing systems of most Western nations. After the seriousness of the crime, the criminal history of the offender is the most important determinant of sentence severity in common-law jurisdictions. Criminal record influences the treatment of offenders throughout (and beyond) the criminal justice system.’[2]
  2. Nature of the Crimes: Whether a court decides to impose concurrent or consecutive sentences depends largely on the gravity and kind of the crimes committed. While concurrent sentences may result from non-violent offenses, consecutive terms involving violent crimes may be more common. Crime is a concept that is always evolving based on people’s social evolution, which is based on the core values and interests that shape their shared worldview. The way that society and the environment are evolving is changing the nature of crime. One can no longer look at crime from a single angle these days. Two prevalent perspectives that elucidate the essence of crime are its status as a societal construct and its nature as an individual criminal activity. [3]
  • Judicial Discretion: In the end, the decision between concurrent and consecutive sentences is greatly influenced by the judge’s judgment and interpretation of the law. Judges take into account the particulars of each case, the evidence that is provided, and the sentence’s overall objective. ‘The role of judicial discretion in the sentencing process is a fundamental and inescapable issue. It tends to become obscured by other issues, such as determinacy and penal policies.’[4]

Does Life Imprisonment cause issues?

Notwithstanding S. 31(2)(a), Cr. P.C., no one may receive a sentence of more than 14 years in prison. Therefore, it is terrible if a judge in a case involving an enactment sentences a convict to 14 years in jail for two offenses, with the sentences serving consecutively.

When life in prison is one of the penalties meted out in these kinds of instances, the problem appears. The issue is whether the court can give successive life sentences, directing the second life sentence to begin after the first sentence has been served or directing the second offense’s fixed term penalty to begin after the first sentence. There have been inconsistent rulings from the Supreme Court. According to some, penalties of successive life in prison are acceptable, provided the executive remits the first life sentence, in which case the subsequent sentences of life or fixed term would begin to run. Nonetheless, the Apex Court has ruled in numerous occasions that a life sentence entails confinement until death, and as a result, he possibility of consecutive sentences cannot exist. It is impossible to condemn him to a different term because a life sentence implies incarceration for the remainder of one’s life. It is improper to impose two consecutive life sentences on an accused individual who has been found guilty of two separate murders and sentenced to life in prison for each murder at the same trial. Instead, the sentences should be imposed concurrently.

A comparison study to emphasize differences and subtleties in the use of consecutive and concurrent sentences:

There are two different methods utilized in criminal sentencing, concurrent and consecutive sentences, each with its own goals and guiding principles. Serving all sentences concurrently for multiple convictions is known as concurrent sentencing, and the length of each sentence is decided by its longest length. Reflecting the idea of proportionality, this strategy seeks to achieve a compromise between preventing too severe punishments and holding the offender accountable for their conduct. When it is necessary to highlight the seriousness of each individual offense and discourage repeat criminal behavior, consecutive sentencing may be utilized, resulting in a more severe overall penalty.

When selecting between concurrent and consecutive sentences, the judge uses his or her discretion, taking into account the specifics of the offense, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and any applicable statutes. Sentences that are consecutive might be more likely to be appealed since the whole length might be viewed as too severe. Appellate courts carefully review these rulings to check for legal mistakes or misuse of authority.

When a defendant is charged with numerous counts stemming from a single incident, concurrent sentencing guarantees that they do not receive two different sentences for the same offense. On the other hand, some contend that sequential sentencing could result in double punishment, particularly if the charges are closely related, by having the defendant serve longer prison terms for several offenses.

Because concurrent sentencing shortens the prison term and gives the offender a chance to start over, it is frequently considered as placing a strong emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration into society. On the other hand, consecutive sentencing might be more effective in discouraging prospective repeat offenders, but it might also limit prospects for rehabilitation, which could encourage criminal activity.



Before the Honorable Sessions Court, the petitioner contested the Ld. Judge’s order.

The petitioner prayed for the Ld. Judge to order the sentences to run concurrently, but he was not heard. The learned judge was unable to comprehend the significance of Cr.P.C. Section 427. It was discovered that the writ applicant was in possession of fake currency. Because the petitioner was found guilty of two separate offenses in two separate trials, the Division Bench of this Court determined that he was not eligible to receive the benefits of section 427 of the Cr.P.C.

The petitioner received a 14-year prison sentence.

The accused was given the advantage of section 427(1) of the Code by the court, which also ordered the concurrent execution of the two sentences. Having already served ten years of hard labor in jail, the Court ordered the jail administration to release the writ applicant.


The petitioner, lifelong prisoner Ranjit Singh, has come before this court to ask for an order or mandamus to be issued directing his early release in accordance with the Punjab government’s policy dated 8.7.1991. According to the petitioner, he has served 10 years of his actual sentence and 14 years of his total term.

After being contested at the Supreme Court, the petitioner’s earlier verdict from 13.8.2010 was upheld in the judgment from 25.2.2015.

However, this Court dismissed the petition in its 3.12.2018 judgment.In response, the State maintains that the sentences are to be served consecutively and that the undertrial period’s benefit is only to be applied once against the term imposed for the violation under Section 364 IPC. The State argues that because the petitioner was given a life sentence for the offense under Section 302 IPC, they cannot profit from the same punishment twice. The State also contends that the petitioner has not served out the full 10 and 14-year sentence with remissions that the policy for premature release mandates.

The Court observes that unless the sentence is reduced or remitted, a person given a life sentence must spend the rest of his life behind bars. Consequently, it makes no difference if the term sentence is served before or after the life sentence because a lifer is supposed to remain in prison until the day he expires.


The use of consecutive and concurrent sentences shows that a number of variables, including the nature of the offenses, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and the proportionality principle, were carefully considered. In the criminal justice system, these various sentencing strategies fulfill different functions by enabling judges to balance the objectives of justice, deterrence, and rehabilitation while customizing sentences to the unique facts of each case. The use of consecutive and concurrent sentences shows that a number of variables, including the nature of the offenses, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and the proportionality principle, were carefully considered. In the criminal justice system, these various sentencing strategies fulfill different functions by enabling judges to balance the objectives of justice, deterrence, and rehabilitation while customizing sentences to the unique facts of each case. Judges in the Indian legal system might employ concurrent and consecutive sentences to establish the proper punishment for a person found guilty of multiple crimes. A number of variables are carefully taken into account when making these determinations, such as the type of crimes committed and the criminal history of the offender.


1. Bhaskar, A. (2021). Consecutive Life Imprisonment Sentencing: Its legality and Viability under Indian Criminal Law.

2. Roberts, J. V. (1997). The Role of Criminal Record in the Sentencing Process. Crime and Justice, 22, 303–362.


4. Schwarzer, W. W. (1990). Judicial Discretion in Sentencing. Fed. Sent’g Rep., 3, 339.



7. Vibhute, K. I. (2016). “LIFE SENTENCE” AFTER “LIFE SENTENCE” IN A SPAN OF “LIFE”: A PENAL MEASURE! Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 58(4), 447–456.

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