Section 31 of the Code of Criminal Procedure lays down that when a person is convicted at one trial for two or more offences, the court may, subject to the provisions of Section 71 of the Indian Penal Code, sentence him, for such offences, to the several punishments prescribed therefore which such court is competent to inflict : such punishment when consisting of imprisonment to commence the one after the expiration of the other in such order as the court may direct, unless it directs that such punishment shall run concurrently, in the case of consecutive sentences it is not necessary to send the offender for trial before a higher court, if the aggregate punishment for the several offences is in excess of the punishment which it is competent to inflict on conviction of a single offence.
The proviso to Section 31, however, lays down that: (a) in no case shall such person be sentenced imprisonment for a longer period than fourteen years; and (b) the aggregate punishment shall not exceed twice the amount of punishment which the Court is competent to inflict for a single offence.
The substantive law is, however, laid down in Section 71 of the Indian Penal Code and the rule laid clown in Section 31 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as mentioned above is only a procedural law. Section 71 of the Indian Penal Code lays down that: (1) where an offence is made up of parts each of which is an offence, the offender shall not be punished for more than one of such offences; and (2) where an offence falls within two or more separate definitions of offences or where several acts, each of which is an offence, constitute, when combined, a different offence, the offender shall not be punished with more severe punishments than that which could be awarded for any of such offences.
Section 31 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has reference only to the conviction of an accused person of two or more offences at one trial and does not apply to sentences passed at different trials. A court cannot, therefore, direct sentences passed in different trials on an accused for two or more offences to run concurrently.
Such a direction can only be given when the sentences have been passed in one trial. The Court when sentencing an accused to separate sentences for each offence at one trial must also determine whether the sentences are to run concurrently or consecutively otherwise the sentence is defective.