Supreme Court: A Division Bench of Dr Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah, JJ. found itself at pains to note that the order passed by the Allahabad High Court granting bail to murder convicts lacked total clarity as to which part of the judgment and order could be said to be submissions and which part could be said to be the findings/reasonings. Observing that writing judgment is an art, though it involves skilful application of law and logic, the Supreme Court said:
“It is very unfortunate that by this judgment, we are required to observe the importance of judgment; purpose of judgment and what should be contained in the judgment.”
The discussion by the Court on the importance, purpose, contents and elements of a judgment is delineated pointwise here:
Importance of a judgment
–> “Judgment” means a judicial opinion which tells the story of the case; what the case is about; how the court is resolving the case and why.
–> “Judgment” is defined as any decision given by a court on a question or questions or issue between the parties to a proceeding properly before court. It is also defined as the decision or the sentence of a court in a legal proceeding along with the reasoning of a judge which leads him to his decision.
–> The term “judgment” is loosely used as judicial opinion or decision.
Purpose of a judgment
–> There are four purposes for any judgment that is written: (i) to spell out judges own thoughts; (ii) to explain your decision to the parties; (iii) to communicate the reasons for the decision to the public; and (iv) to provide reasons for an appeal court to consider.
–> It is not adequate that a decision is accurate, it must also be reasonable, logical and easily comprehensible. The judicial opinion is to be written in such a way that it elucidates in a convincing manner and proves the fact that the verdict is righteous and judicious.
What should be contained in a judgment
–> What the court says, and how it says it, is equally important as what the court decides.
–> Every judgment contains four basic elements and they are: (i) statement of material (relevant) facts; (ii) legal issues or questions; (iii) deliberation to reach at decision; and (iv) the ratio or conclusive decision.
–> A judgment should be coherent, systematic and logically organised. It should enable the reader to trace the fact to a logical conclusion on the basis of legal principles.
–> A judgment has to formulate findings of fact, it has to decide what the relevant principles of law are, and it has to apply those legal principles to the facts.
–> The important elements of a judgment are: (i) Caption; (ii) Case number and citation; (iii) Facts; (iv) Issues; (v) Summary of arguments by both the parties; (vi) Application of law (vii) Final conclusive verdict.
Disapproving the manner in which the High Court had disposed of the bail applications pending appeals, the Supreme Court observed:
“The judgment replicates the individuality of the judge and therefore it is indispensable that it should be written with care and caution. The reasoning in the judgment should be intelligible and logical. Clarity and precision should be the goal. All conclusions should be supported by reasons duly recorded. The findings and directions should be precise and specific. “
The Court said that it is conscious of the fact that the judges may be overburdened with the pending cases and the arrears, but at the same time, quality can never be sacrificed for quantity. Unless judgment is not in a precise manner, it would not have a sweeping impact. The Court explained that whenever a judgment is written, it should have clarity on facts; on submissions made on behalf of the rival parties; discussion on law points and thereafter reasoning and thereafter the ultimate conclusion and the findings and thereafter the operative portion of the order. There must be a clarity on the final relief granted. A party to the litigation must know what actually he has got by way of final relief. These aspects are to be borne in mind while writing the judgment, which would reduce the burden of the appellate court too. Emphasising again on the importance of clear and reasoned judgments, the Supreme Court observed:
“We have come across many judgments which lack clarity on facts, reasoning and the findings and many a times it is very difficult to appreciate what the judge wants to convey through the judgment and because of that, matters are required to be remanded for fresh consideration. Therefore, it is desirable that the judgment should have a clarity, both on facts and law and on submissions, findings, reasonings and the ultimate relief granted. “
What was the case?
The Supreme Court made above discussed observations while setting aside the judgment of the Allahabad High Court which had granted bail to murder convicts pending criminal appeals preferred by them. The instant appeal was filed against that order of the High Court by wife of the deceased.
The convicts were accused of murdering one Kripa Shankar Shukla. The trial court had convicted them for offences under Sections 302 (punishment for murder), 149 (member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 201 (dishonestly making false claim in court) read with Section 120-B (punishment for criminal conspiracy) of the Penal Code, 1860. Shockingly, during the investigation by the Crime Branch, it was found that the incumbent Sub-Inspector of police tried to save the accused deliberately by recording false facts in his investigation report. Not only this, but the doctor who conducted the post-mortem, deliberately mentioned wrong reason for death of the deceased in order to save the accused.
What was the problem with HC’s judgment?
Having gone through the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court releasing the convicts on bail, the Supreme Court was at pains to note that the order granting bail lacked total clarity as to which part of the judgment and order could be said to be submissions and which part can be said to be the findings/reasonings. It did not even reflect the submissions on behalf of the Public Prosecutor opposing the bail. The detailed counter affidavit filed by the State was not even referred to. The Supreme Court said that it could not approve the manner in which the High Court disposed of the bail applications.
The Court further opined that even on merits, the impugned order of the High Court was not sustainable. The High Court did not at all appreciate and consider the fact that the trial Court on appreciation of evidence had convicted the accused. It was observed:
“Once the accused have been convicted by the trial Court, there shall not be any presumption of innocence thereafter. Therefore, the High Court shall be very slow in granting bail to the accused pending appeal who are convicted for the serious offences punishable under Sections 302/149, 201 read with 120-B IPC.”
Further, the High Court also failed to note circumstances under which efforts were made to delay/derail the investigation right from the very beginning. The trial Court had convicted even the investigating officer and the doctor who performed the post-mortem for the offences under Section 201 read with Sections 120-B and 218 IPC. The trial court had specifically observed that the accused gave threats repeatedly to prosecution witnesses and villagers and threatened them that if they gave evidence against the accused, they would suffer dire consequences. FIRs were consequently filed. Such conduct ought not to have been taken by the High Court very lightly.
The High Court also did not consider seriousness of the offence and the gravity of accusation against the convicts and their antecedents and conduct. The High Court ought to have noted that when the High Court released the convicts on bail, they had undergone only 8 months sentence against life sentence imposed by the trial court.
The Supreme Court concluded that the High Court committed a grave error in releasing the convicts on bail pending appeals. Therefore, the Court allowed the instant appeal and set aside the High Court order of granting bail. [Shakuntala Shukla v. State of U.P., 2021 SCC OnLine SC 672, decided on 7-9-2021]