The Case of Mithu vs State of Punjab (1983)

July 11, 2024

In the 1983 Supreme Court of India case mithu vs state of Punjab (1983) 2 SCC 277, a five-judge Constitutional Bench rendered a significant ruling. In this case, section 303 of the indian penal code, 1860, which stipulated that a prisoner serving a life sentence for murder committed while in custody could only be executed, was being challenged constitutionally.

mithu vs state of Punjab case Facts

  • The petition contesting the constitutionality of Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is at the center of the factual matrix of the Mithu v. State of Punjab (1983) case.
  • The petitioners contend that section 303 of the indian penal code violates the fundamental rights protected by the Indian Constitution and is an arbitrary and irrational law.
  • article 21 and article 14 were the two specific fundamental rights that were allegedly infringed upon by the implementation of section 303 of the indian penal code.
  • article 21 addresses the right to life and personal liberty, whereas article 14 addresses the right to equality before the law and equal protection under the law.
  • Regarding the contested provision, the argument is that it cannot be used lawfully. This is argued because Section 303’s extremely harsh and unjust process for taking a person’s life is unfair.
  • According to article 21, a person’s life and liberty may only be taken away by legal means, and such means must be just, reasonable, fair, and devoid of any ambiguity.
  • The petition’s main argument is that it is an arbitrary process that is neither reasonable and equitable under the law to sentence someone serving a life sentence to death if they are later found guilty of murder.
  • The petition claims that the designation of “life inmates guilty of murder” is unreasonable and in violation of article 14 because it is not a reasonable classification. In its final plea, the petition asked the Supreme Court to rule that the clause is unconstitutional.

mithu vs state of Punjab Issues

  • Does article 21 of the Indian Constitution’s fundamental right to life and liberty get in the way of the application of section 303 of the indian penal code, 1860?
  • Is Article 14, the Indian Constitution’s guarantee of the right to equality, violated by section 303 of the indian penal code, 1860?

Contentions by the Parties


  • The petitioner’s learned attorney claimed that Section 303 of the IPC is completely arbitrary and unreasonable, and as such, it violates Article 21 of the constitution, which guarantees that no one may be deprived of their life or personal freedom unless it is necessary to carry out a legally mandated procedure.
  • The petitioner’s learned attorney further stated that Section 303 of the IPC is illegal due to the arbitrary and unfair process that authorizes the taking of life.


  • Section 303 of the IPC does not have any constitutional flaws, according to the counsel for the respondent, who bases this argument on the ruling in the Bachan Singh case. They argue that since the legitimacy of the death penalty was confirmed in that instance, Section 303 of the IPC has limited its application to the death penalty for murder.
  • In addition, learned counsel for the respondent stated that if the death penalty is necessary, the court must provide a justification for it in accordance with section 354(3) of the criminal procedure code. Normally, a murder conviction carries a life sentence.

mithu vs state of Punjab Judgment

  • In Mithu, the Court ruled that Section 302 will not be applied to a trial for a murder charge (even a life sentenced individual who subsequently commits murder).
  • The Mithu ruling overturned a person’s conviction on a required death penalty charge, and it had an instant impact on certain later cases.
  • The Supreme Court proved its dedication to limiting the use of arbitrary sentencing powers that are not permitted by the Constitution. It ruled that Section 303 of the IPC, which stipulates that life sentences for murderers must result in death, was illegal and unconstitutional.
  • The Court decided that it was against Article 21’s prohibitions against the wilful impairment of life to impose mandatory death sentences without taking into account the mitigating circumstances of the offense and the background of the accused.

Section 303 of the IPC was primarily created to protect the rights of prison staff members who were at a higher risk of being attacked by Native Americans. A more reformatory approach than a punitive one is currently adopted by the Indian judiciary, which upholds the core principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” The attacks on the jail authorities were the only thing that the Act’s framers were concerned with, and they did not take many other aspects into account.

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