Idiosyncrasies of colloquial terms, used for naming accused, could well be the difference between his conviction and acquittal: Supreme Court

Supreme Court: A Division Bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ. took the liberty of disagreeing with one of the most famous lines penned down by the Bard of Avon (William Shakespeare), to suggest that “Much indeed is in a name“. The Supreme Court reiterated the necessity of referring to guidelines regarding inadequacies and deficiencies in criminal trials. The Court also took note of the Draft Rules of Criminal Practice, 2021 which dictate the manner in which depositions must be translated. The Court observed that:

“The practice of translating any relevant document must not differ so significantly across forums and submissions by parties to cast severe aspersions on evidence, which may otherwise be not warranted. Idiosyncrasies of colloquial terms, used for naming an accused, could well be the difference between conviction and acquittal of an accused. “

The Court felt constrained to note few errors (typographical or otherwise) with regard to the FIR, witness statements and supplementary statements, presented at different stages in the instant case. These documents had variations either in translation or transcription, when supplied to the Court. The confusion created by multiple versions of statements and depositions in the projection of either side compelled the Court to reiterate the necessity of referring to the guidelines. The Court quoted relevant portion from its earlier order in To Issue Certain Guidelines Regarding Inadequacies & Deficiencies in Criminal Trials, In re, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 329, which reflected the precise concerns which the Court faced in appreciating the evidence presented:

“The Court noticed common deficiencies which occur in course of criminal trials. … These related, amongst others, to the manner in which documents (i.e. list of witnesses, list of exhibits, list of material objects) referred to are presented and exhibited in the judgment, and the lack of uniform practices in regard to preparation of injury reports, deposition of witnesses, translation of statements, numbering and nomenclature of witnesses, labeling of material objects, etc. These very often lead to asymmetries and hamper appreciation of evidence, which in turn has a tendency of prolonging proceedings, especially at the appellate stages.”  

Facts

The Court was deciding an appeal filed against the judgment of the Bombay High Court whereby the appellant’s conviction in a murder case was upheld. The crime was committed in January 2009, when a group of ten-twelve persons murdered one Balu by attacking him with dangerous weapons. The FIR was filed by one Arun who tried to save Balu but was himself injured in the assault. Notably, the appellant was not named in the FIR but was described by his build and appearance. He faced trial with other co-accused and was convicted for several offences under the Penal Code, 1860. The High Court upheld his conviction. Aggrieved, the appellant approached the Supreme Court.

Discussion and Observations

Main argument of the appellant was that he was not amongst the accused named in the FIR, and as the prosecution did not arrange for Test Identification Parade, his identity as an accused could not have been clearly established.

Considering the record, the Court found that while the FIR did not disclose name of the appellant as one of the accused, however, the eye-witnesses identified the appellant in supplementary statements. They named the appellant and ascribed specific role in the attack. The appellant was identified as Lalu who assaulted with a sword. He first injured Arun who tried to save Balu, and after that assaulted Balu with the sword.

Notably, the eye-witnesses referred the appellant ‘Lala’ as ‘Lalya’ at several places. On this, the Court opined that the colloquial variation was no so far removed so as to render the identification unreliable, particularly when no other person by such name was amongst the accused group. The Court, however, made a very interesting remark:

“Much indeed is in a name as in this case if we may take the liberty of disagreeing with one of the most famous lines penned down by the Bard of Avon, ‘What’s in a name’. “

The Court was of the view that though the FIR was silent on the name of the appellant, it could not throw out the prosecution case on such a basis as other reliable evidence was available in the case. It was observed:

“The FIR is certainly the starting point of the investigation, but it is well within the rights of the prosecution to produce witness statements as they progress further into the investigation and unearth the specific roles of accused persons. The FIR as is known, only sets the investigative machinery, into motion.”

The eye-witnesses ascribed the same specific role to the appellant and narrated the events in same chronology, without material discrepancies. In view of such positive identification by the eye-witnesses, the Court was of the view that Test Identification Parade was not necessary, as the identity of the appellant was known to the witnesses. The Court said that appellant’s conviction was not vitiate on this ground. Reliance was placed on Munshi Singh Gautam v. State of M.P., (2005) 9 SCC 631.

Conclusion and Decision

The Court concluded that identity of the appellant as one of the members of the attacking group and his specific role in the assault was established beyond doubt. There was cogent evidence that the appellant was part of the conspiracy in assault which led to death of Balu and injuries to Arun. As such, the conviction of the appellant could not be faulted.

In the result, the Court found no grounds to interfere with the judgment of the High Court, and consequently dismissed the appeal. [Lala v. State of Maharashtra, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 631, decided on 24-8-2021]


Tejaswi Pandit, Senior Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

Join the discussion

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.