High Court, being First Appellate Court, cannot acquit an accused without re-appreciation of evidence: Supreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where the Gujarat High Court had acquitted a man booked for the offences under Section 7 read with Sections 13(1) & 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ has set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court after noticing that,

“The High Court has only made general observations on the depositions of the witnesses examined. However, there is no re-appreciation of the entire evidence on record in detail, which ought to have been done by the High Court while dealing with the judgment and order of conviction passed by the Learned Trial Court.”

The Court noticed that being First Appellate Court, the High Court was required to re-appreciate the entire evidence on record and also the reasoning given by the Learned trial Court while convicting the accused.

“Non-re-appreciation of the evidence on record may affect the case of either the prosecution or even the accused.”

Presumption of innocence – When available?

An Appellate Court while dealing with an appeal against acquittal passed by the Learned trial Court, is required to bear in mind that in case of acquittal there is double presumption in favour of the accused.

Firstly, the presumption of innocence is available to him under the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved guilty by a competent court of law.

Secondly, the accused having secured his acquittal, the presumption of his innocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strengthened by the trial Court.

Therefore, while dealing with the cases of acquittal by the trial Court, the Appellate Court would have certain limitations.

The Court, further, relied on the decision in Umedbhai Jadavbhai v. State of Gujarat, (1978) 1 SCC 228, wherein it was observed,

“Once the appeal is entertained against the order of acquittal, the High Court is entitled to re-appreciate the entire evidence independently and come to its own   conclusion. Ordinarily, the High Court would give due importance to the opinion of the Sessions Judge if the same were arrived at after proper appreciation of the evidence. The High Court would be justified against an acquittal passed by the Learned Trial Court even on re-appreciation of the entire evidence independently and   come to its own conclusion that acquittal is perverse and manifestly erroneous”.  

However, so far as the appeal against the order of conviction is concerned, there are no such restrictions and the Court of appeal has wide powers of appreciation of evidence and the High Court has to re-appreciate the entire evidence on record being a First Appellate Court.

“Keeping in mind that once the Learned Trial Court has convicted there shall not be presumption of innocence as would be there in the case of acquittal.”

Conclusion

The Court, hence, found the approach of the High Court in dealing/non¬dealing with the evidence to be patently illegal leading to grave miscarriage of justice.

“The High Court ought to have appreciated that it was dealing with the offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act which offences are against the society. And therefore, the High Court ought to have been more careful and ought to have gone in detail. We do not approve the manner in which the High Court has dealt with the appeal.”

It was, therefore, the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court acquitting the respondent – accused without adverting to the reasons given by the Learned trial Court while convicting the accused and without reappreciating the entire evidence on record in detail cannot be sustained and the same deserves to be quashed and set aside.

The matter was, hence, remanded to the High Court to consider and deal with the appeal afresh in accordance with law and on its own merits keeping in mind the observations made in the case at hand.

[State of Gujarat v. Bhalchandra Laxmishankar Dave, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 52, decided on 02.02.2021]


*Justice MR Shah has penned this judgment

Appearances before the Court: 
For State of Gujarat: Advocate Deepanwita Priyanka,
For Respondent-accused: Senior Advocate J.S. Attri and advocate Haresh Raichura

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