Trial courts directed to ensure that legal counsel appointed at State expense must have sufficient experience

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench comprising of TV Nalawade and AM Dhawale, JJ dismissed a criminal appeal filed by the State against the acquittal of the respondent who had been held guilty of committing murder of his wife under S. 302 of the Penal Code of 1860 but acquitted on grounds of insanity. The appellant contended that as per the Evidence Act, the burden to prove insanity in order to avail the exception by preponderance of probability was on the accused, which he failed to show due to failure to examination by a medical expert.

However, the High Court upheld the decision of the trial court, giving the respondent the benefit of the doubt since the issue of his behavior immediately before and after the incident had not been known or not been inquired into but it had been sufficiently shown that the accused was under medical treatment for his mental health. Another issue addressed by the High Court was the failure of the trial court to appoint an advocate with relevant experience in handling Court of Sessions cases involving mental insanity.

Holding that proper legal assistance to the accused was a fundamental right under right to life and personal liberty and also a part of due process of law, the Court issued directions to all police officers and Judicial Magistrates, Sessions Judges/Special Judges to appoint an advocate with sufficient experience, and also mention such experience held in detail in their order for the ease of the appellate courts. [State of Maharashtra v. Sheshrao, 2017 SCC OnLine Bom 9402, order dated 21-12-2017]

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