In a legal context, “sentence” refers to the penalty a criminal offender receives from the appropriate judicial authority. Every nation has a system of sentencing to deter crime and punish criminals. Countries must define their sentencing procedures to contribute to crime reduction. These guidelines are essential to ensuring a fair sentence and are doubly important when the judiciary needs to decide between a concurrent and consecutive sentence. This article is an attempt to highlight these guidelines with reference to the differences between a consecutive and a concurrent sentence, and underline, through relevant references, the situations where one form of sentencing or the other is to be considered appropriate.


“Punishing the offender is at the core of the delivery of criminal justice, yet in our nation, it is the most underdeveloped aspect of the administration of criminal justice[1].”

Humankind has been sustaining social order since the dawn of time by creating laws and ordinances ideally upheld by the populace. If someone violates the pertinent law, they will be punished according to the ordinary course of justice. Punishment laws were stricter back then, with a more significant emphasis on creating a deterrent impact by setting an example of more severe punishment concerning the crimes they committed. However, as society and humankind evolved, punishment shifted its emphasis toward a more reformative one, becoming more reasonable. 

Despite their similarities, the terms sentence and punishment are not interchangeable. Sentences are statements in judgments that specify the legal penalty for a particular offense. It is known as the penalty when the same is implemented and operationalized. As a result, it is claimed that the sentencing comes before the actual punishment[2]. The penalty meted out to the guilty parties by the courts during the criminal procedures is a sentence. In other words, it is a strategy for deterring future crimes in addition to punishing the offender.

For crimes, successive sentences were not allowed under common law, primarily due to the defence of autrefois attaint and also because the death penalty was always the initial sentence for a majority of crimes. However, several offences used to result in multiple penalties, and it was not uncommon for convicts to be awarded multiple sentences for the offences that they committed. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, when the death sentence was abolished for various crimes, the issue started to have practical consequences[3]. As a result, the defence of autrefois attaint was eliminated by section 4 of the Criminal Law Act of 1827, and ten consecutive sentences were allowed by section 5[4]. Because successive punishments were always permitted under common law and appeared to be the norm rather than the exception in the case of misdemeanours, Section 10 appears unnecessary. The attainder had been the only obstacle in the case of crimes.

Sentencing guidelines[5] are regulations devised to guarantee consistent and reasonable sentencing practices across a country. Judges in India’s criminal justice system have the authority to decide the punishment given to the offender after considering mitigating and aggravating circumstances. It occasionally has a positive effect on society, but numerous times it is also evident that the penalties are arbitrary and unfair. This may result in the victim experiencing injustice. The IPC Chapter III, Section 53[6], specifies the range of penalties that the courts may impose for specific offences.   Death, imprisonment for life, severe or simple incarceration, forfeiture of property, and a fine are the possible punishments. Each offence covered by the IPC has a minimum and maximum penalty that may be imposed.


The issue of whether one sentence should run simultaneously with or consecutive to another is one that the court must often address when sentencing offenders for several offences. In 1968, there were 325,117[7] people found guilty of Standard List Offenses in England and Wales, and 131,559 more convictions for the same offenses were reported against them[8]. A very approximate estimate would be on no less than one in special obligations when a defendant is found guilty of a Standard List Offense. It is after considering that in many individual situations; more than one subsequent finding of guilt will have been entered against the defendant. The Indian Criminal Law[9] is noteworthy in that it not only gives courts the authority to choose whether to impose a sentence that runs concurrently with another sentence or consecutively but also empowers them to ascertain the quantum of the sentence depending on several judicial rules and principles.

Charge stacking, commonly referred to as a sequential sentence, happens when a court orders a defendant who has committed many offences to serve their prison term in instalments rather than all at once. The offender will get many jail terms that will be served consecutively after being proven guilty of the related criminal offences. As per Chapter III Section 31 of the Criminal Code of Procedure (CrPC)[10], when a defendant is convicted of two or more offences during a single trial, the court may be subject to Section 71 of the IPC[11], and sentence him to different penalties imposed as a result of such convictions and that such Court is qualified to impose; such penalties, when consisting of imprisonment, to commence one after the expiration of the time of the other in such a manner.

In the case of consecutive sentences, the Court is not required to refer the offender to a higher court because the combined punishment for the various offences does not exceed the maximum punishment it is permitted to impose on conviction of a single offence. However, no such person shall be sentenced to more than fourteen years’ incarceration, and the combined prison sentence shall not exceed twice the amount imposed on conviction of a single offence.

In Oregon v. Ice (2009)[12], the United States Supreme Court determined that the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution does not prevent states from appointing judges rather than juries to conduct the fact-finding required to impose consecutive sentences for multiple offences as opposed to concurrent ones. The Act also allowed for such a sentence when the victim was at risk of suffering enormous or substantively different harm due to the offence or when the offender showed a willingness to conduct many offences. The Supreme Court ruled that the defendant’s acts satisfied these requirements and that his sentences should be served concurrently.  The judge’s judgment effectively quadrupled his sentence from 7.5 to 28 years.

A concurrent sentence is a legal proclamation that states a person convicted of several offences must concurrently serve the prison terms associated with each violation. The court may impose a concurrent sentence as part of a plea agreement or as a condition of mercy. The type of offence entails legal ramifications that will determine the duration of a jail sentence. A judge can use discretion when evaluating mitigating elements or extenuating circumstances encircling the specifics of a case.

According to Section 427 of the CrPC[13], a person who is already serving time of imprisonment who is sentenced to a subsequent conviction of confinement or life imprisonment must start serving that sentence at the end of the current one unless the court orders that the following sentence run simultaneously with the current one. In this regard, the Supreme Court, in Ranjit Singh v. Union Territory of Chandigarh[14], stated that a person with only one life to live would serve the remainder of their life in prison until their sentence was commuted or vacated by the appropriate authorities if they have to serve a sentence based on solitary confinement, and a prior life sentence of imprisonment

The Supreme Court acknowledged the fundamental principle that convictions resulting from a single transaction justify concurrent sentence execution in Mohd. Akhtar Hussain v. Assistant Collector of Customs (1988)[15]. The Allahabad High Court mandated that the convictions be served concurrently in Mulaim Singh v. State 1974[16] since the crimes and transactions were similar. In conclusion, depending on the case’s circumstances and the offence’s severity, the Court may and should exercise its discretion to issue a directive under Section 427 of the CrPC. In recapitulation, depending on the case’s circumstances and the offence’s severity, the Court may and should exercise its discretion to issue a directive under Section 427.

 Appurtenant, a quick perusal of the aforementioned provisions would indicate that under the provisions of Sections 31 and 427 of the CrPC, in cases where an accused is found guilty of two or more offences at once or when a person was already serving a sentence of imprisonment on a subsequent conviction to imprisonment or imprisonment for life, respectively, such subsequent sentence begins after the expiration of the previous sentence, unless a Court orders otherwise. On that account, the Courts’ decision-making about how sentences run is entirely within their right(s) and discretion, and the Court’s use of this discretion is not constrained in any way. In actuality, the Indian Courts have purposefully abstained from ruling that, while sentencing, it is customary to decide that the sentences run consecutively and, in exceptional circumstances, to order that they run concurrently.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the freedom of choice available for the sanction’s imposition, a few exceptions have been made concerning the concurrent or consecutive running of sentences. Notably, in Mohd. Akhtar Hussain v. Asst. Collector of Customs, the Apex Court established the “single transaction rule” as a guideline for the concurrent running of sentences “It is improper to impose consecutive sentences when a specific transaction results in two offences under two laws. Concurrent sentences are legal and appropriate. However, this rule is not applicable if the transaction relating to the offences is not the same or the facts that constitute the two offences are very dissimilar. In V.K. Bansal v. State of Haryana, the Supreme Court further cited the aforementioned principle, stating that “the legal position favors exercise of discretion to the benefit of the prisoner in cases where the prosecution is based on a single transaction, regardless of whether different complaints concerning that may have been filed[17].” The Apex Court has therefore developed a “convict benefit approach,” while addressing concurrent running of sentences, in cases where the subsequent conviction relates to offences arising out of a single transaction when taken into consideration in the context of the said precedents.


The last phase of a criminal trial is the imposition of penalties on those found guilty. The duration of the punishment is discussed by the Court and ultimately decided. It is essential to realize that sentencing policies vary across the country. Judges may impose any penalty depending on the range of punishments outlined in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The Court should be required to quantify the reductions it gives to each mitigating factor when imposing a sentence, state the starting point of the sentence it considers appropriate, and then take into account the seriousness of the crime and the extent and nature of the offender’s involvement in it. It might prevent giving mitigating factors undue weight throughout the sentencing procedure. Finally, when imposing penalties for offences with distinct factual circumstances, consideration needs to be given to sequential sentences rather than concurrent punishments. Thus, it is the discretion of the courts, especially in India, that sets out the primary differences between the acts that warrant a consecutive or a concurrent sentence. However, what must be kept in mind is that this discretion accorded to the judiciary be used prudently, lest justice be denied either to either party in a trial.

Author(s) Name: Roshni Nathwani (Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University)


[1]Soman vs. State of Kerela 2013, (11) SCC 382

[2] Sahay Aastha, “sentencing and punishment policy in india” (Probono India, 12 August 2020) <> accessed 6 July 2022

[3] Michael Newark, Alec Samuels & Stephen White, ‘Sentencing the Multiple Offender: Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences‘ ( 23rd Volume, Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 1972) 133- 136

[4] ibid

[5] Indian Penal Code, 1860, s 53

[6] Indian Penal Code, 1860, s 53

[7] Newark, Samuels, White (n 3)

[8] Newark, Samuels, White (n 3) 

[9] Indian Penal Code, 1860

[10] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, s 31

[11] Indian Penal Code, 1860, s 71

[12] Oregon v Ice (2009) 555 US 160

[13] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, s 427

[14] Ranjit Singh v Union Territory of Chandigarh 1984, AIR 1984, 1 SCC 45

[15] Mohd. Akhtar Hussain v. Assistant Collector of Customs 1988, AIR 2143, SCC (4) 183

[16] Mulaim Singh v. State 1974, Cr. L.J 1397

[17] O.M. Cherian v. State of Kerela 2015, SCC 501