Young age of complainants in rape-murder cases is not considered to be “the only or sufficient factor” for imposing death sentences on convicts, the Supreme Court has said, reported Live Law on Tuesday.

The court made the observation while commuting the death sentence of a man convicted for raping and murdering a five-year-old girl in Karnataka in 2010, PTI reported.

In an order on Monday, the Supreme Court reduced the sentencing to a life term and said that the accused will spend at least 30 years in jail.

The man, Irappa Sidappa Murgannavar, had been sentenced to death by a trial court in 2012, The Times of India reported. In 2017, the Karnataka High Court had upheld this order. After that, the man approached the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court bench, while hearing the man’s case on Monday, relied on its verdict in another ruling where it had commuted the death penalty of an accused person to a life term. The case involved a man who was convicted for raping and murdering a child in Maharashtra in 2013.

Ahead of the verdict in the case in Maharashtra, the court had surveyed 67 of its judgments over a period of 40 years, according to Bar and Bench.

The court said that in at least 51 of those 67 rape-and-murder cases, the complainants were below the age of 12. In 12 of the 51 cases, the convicts had initially been given death sentences. But in three cases, the death penalties had been commuted to life sentences, the court said.

“It appears from the above data that low age of the victim has not been considered as the only or sufficient factor by this court for imposing a death sentence,” the Supreme Court said, according to Bar and Bench. “If it were the case, then all, or almost all, 67 cases would have culminated in imposition of sentence of death on the accused.”

The Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, Sanjiv Khanna and BR Gavai on Monday noted that in the case in Karnataka, the lower courts had not taken certain mitigating factors into account.

“It has been rightly pointed out by the counsel for the appellant that the trial court merely noticed that the appellant was of young age [23/25 years] belonging to a very poor family, but has not considered these as mitigating factors,” they said. “The High Court has noted that there are no mitigating circumstances at all. We find this observation incorrect.”

The Supreme Court also noted that the man had no criminal history and that there was no evidence to prove that the crime was pre-planned, The Times of India reported.

However, the judges said there was no doubt that the man had committed an “abhorrent crime”, Bar and Bench reported.

“For this we believe that incarceration for life will serve as sufficient punishment and penitence for his actions, in the absence of any material to believe that if allowed to live he poses a grave and serious threat to the society, and the imprisonment for life in our opinion would also ward off any such threat,” the judges said.

The judges said there was hope for the man’s reformation. “The option of imprisonment for life is certainly not foreclosed and therefore acceptable,” the bench said.