High Court’s Revisional jurisdiction under Section 401 Cr.P.C re power to reverse acquittal. SC answers important questions

Supreme Court: The bench of MR Shah* and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has answered the following three important questions on the revisional jurisdiction of the High Court:

Whether the High Court in exercise of the revisional jurisdiction under Section 401 Cr.P.C. can set aside the order of acquittal and convicting the accused by converting the finding of acquittal into one of conviction?

The Court held that sub-section (3) of Section 401 Cr.P.C. prohibits/bars the High Court to convert a finding of acquittal into one of conviction. Though the High Court has revisional power to examine whether there is manifest error of law or procedure etc., however, after giving its own findings on the findings recorded by the court acquitting the accused and after setting aside the order of acquittal, the High Court has to remit the matter to the trial Court and/or the first appellate Court, as the case may be.

Referring to the ruling in K. Chinnaswamy Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1962 SC 1788, the Court noticed that if the order of acquittal has been passed by the trial Court, the High Court may remit the matter to the trial Court and even direct retrial. However, if the order of acquittal is passed by the first appellate court, in that case, the High Court has two options available, (i) to remit the matter to the first appellate Court to rehear the appeal; or (ii) in an appropriate case remit the matter to the trial Court for retrial and in such a situation the procedure in decision in K. Chinnaswamy Reddy can be followed.

In K. Chinnaswamy, it was held that,

“It will depend upon the facts of each case whether the High Court would order the appeal court to rehear the appeal or would order a retrial by the trial court. Where, as in this case, the entire evidence is there and it was the appeal court which ruled out the evidence that had been admitted by the trial court, the proper course in our opinion is to send back the appeal for rehearing to the appeal court. In such a case the order of the trial court would stand subject to the decision of the appeal court on rehearing. In the present case it is not disputed that the entire evidence has been led and the only defect is that the appeal court wrongly ruled out evidence which was admitted by the trial court. In the circumstances we are of opinion that the proper course is to direct the appeal court to rehear the appeal and either maintain the conviction after taking into consideration the evidence which was ruled out by it previously or to acquit the accused if that is the just course to take. We should like to add that the appeal court when it rehears the appeal should not be influenced by any observations of the High Court on the appreciation of the evidence and should bring to bear its own mind on the evidence after taking into consideration that part of the evidence which was considered inadmissible previously by it.”

In a case where the victim has a right of appeal against the order of acquittal, now as provided under Section 372 Cr.P.C and the victim has not availed such a remedy and has not preferred the appeal, whether the revision application is required to be entertained at the instance of a party/victim instead of preferring an appeal?

After the amendment in Section 372 Cr.P.C. after 2009 and insertion of proviso to Section 372 Cr.P.C., a victim has a statutory right of appeal against the order of acquittal. Therefore, no revision shall be entertained at the instance of the victim against the order of acquittal in a case where no appeal is preferred and the victim is to be relegated to file an appeal. Even the same would be in the interest of the victim himself/herself as while exercising the revisional jurisdiction, the scope would be very limited, however, while exercising the appellate jurisdiction, the appellate Court would have a wider jurisdiction than the revisional jurisdiction. Similarly, in a case where an order of acquittal is passed in any case instituted upon complaint, the complainant (other than victim) can prefer an appeal against the order of acquittal as provided under sub-section (4) of Section 378 Cr.P.C., subject to the grant of special leave to appeal by the High Court.

As observed in Mallikarjun Kodagali v. State of Karnataka, (2019) 2 SCC 752, so far as the victim is concerned, the victim has not to pray for grant of special leave to appeal, as the victim has a statutory right of appeal under Section 372 proviso and the proviso to Section 372 does not stipulate any condition of obtaining special leave to appeal like subsection (4) of Section 378 Cr.P.C. in the case of a complainant and in a case where an order of acquittal is passed in any case instituted upon complaint. The right provided to the victim to prefer an appeal against the order of acquittal is an absolute right.

Hence, in a case where the victim and/or the complainant, as the case may be, has not preferred and/or availed the remedy of appeal against the order of acquittal as provided under Section 372 Cr.P.C. or Section 378(4), as the case may be, the revision application against the order of acquittal at the instance of the victim or the complainant, as the case may be, shall not be entertained and the victim or the complainant, as the case may be, shall be relegated to prefer the appeal as provided under Section 372 or Section 378(4), as the case may be.

While exercising the powers under sub-section (5) of Section 401 Cr.P.C. treating the revision application as petition of appeal and deal with the same accordingly, the High Court is required to pass a judicial order?

The High Court may treat the application for revision as petition of appeal and deal with the same accordingly is concerned, firstly the High Court has to pass a judicial order to treat the application for revision as petition of appeal. The High Court has to pass a judicial order because sub-section (5) of Section 401 Cr.P.C. provides that if the High Court is satisfied that such revision application was made under the erroneous belief that no appeal lies thereto and that it is necessary in the interests of justice so to do. While treating with the application for revision as petition of appeal and deal with the same accordingly, the High Court has to record the satisfaction as provided under sub-section (5) of Section 401 Cr.P.C.

Therefore, where under the Cr.P.C. an appeal lies, but an application for revision has been made to the High Court by any person, the High Court has jurisdiction to treat the application for revision as a petition of appeal and deal with the same accordingly as per sub-section (5) of Section 401 Cr.P.C., however, subject to the High Court being satisfied that such an application was made under the erroneous belief that no appeal lies thereto and that it is necessary in the interests of justice so to do and for that purpose the High Court has to pass a judicial order, may be a formal order, to treat the application for revision as a petition of appeal and deal with the same accordingly.

[Joseph Stephen v. Santhanasamy, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 90, decided on 25.01.2022]


*Judgment by: Justice MR Shah


Counsels

For Accused: Senior Advocate S. Nagamuthu

For State: Advocate Dr. Joseph Aristotle

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