Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., dismissed a criminal appeal filed against the order of the Metropolitan Magistrate whereby he had acquitted the accused-respondent for the absence of the complainant-appellant and his advocate at the stage when the case was placed for evidence.

It may be noted that the matter was listed before the trial court on 31 occasions, out of which, the complainant (appellant herein) was absent 11 times. On the 31st occasion as well, when the matter was placed for evidence, the complainant and his advocate were absent. Consequently, the trial Magistrate passed the impugned order mentioned above. In the instant appeal, it was submitted by the complainant that it was due to inadvertence of his counsel, who misheard the next date of hearing, that the complainant was not able to present himself before the trial court on the day the impugned order was passed.

On facts, the High Court found that the pleas made by the appellant were unsubstantiated and no relief could be given to him.

Explaining the mandate of Section 256 CrPC, the Court observed:

“Section 256 mandates that if the complainant does not remain present on the appointed day after the summons has been issued on the complaint and unless attendance of complainant has been dispensed with, the Magistrate shall acquit the accused. If the Magistrate feels that the order of acquittal should not be passed on that date, the Magistrate has to give reasons.”

Reiterating that speedy trial is a fundamental right of the accused, the Court noted that the Magistrate cannot allow a case to remain pending for an indefinite period.

The Court observed that “the Magistrate in terms of sub-section (1) of Section 256 exercises wide jurisdiction”. In the present case, it was noted, the Magistrate had acquitted the accused as provided under Section 256 because he did not find any reason to adjourn the hearing of the case to some other day. As noted above, out of the 31 dates, on 11 dates the complainant was absent but still the Magistrate did not dismiss the complaint on those dates.

In such a situation, the High Court was of the opinion that there was no illegality in the impugned order so as to require any interference. The appeal was, therefore, dismissed. [Champalal Kapoorchand Jain v. Navyug Cloth Stores, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 4805, decided on 26-11-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Tripura High Court: The Bench of S. Talapatra, J. reversed the order of the trial court convicting the appellant for offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC and sentencing him to suffer 3 years rigorous imprisonment.

Father of the deceased alleged that the appellant (husband of the deceased) tortured her and subjected her to cruelty for not fulfilling the unlawful demand of Rs 20,000 cash and gold ornaments. Finally, on 22-12-2012, the deceased committed suicide by hanging herself. An FIR was lodged and the appellant was put to trial after pleading not guilty. At the conclusion of the trial, the trial court convicted the appellant for offence punishable under Section 498-A IPC (cruelty to woman). Aggrieved thereby, the appellant preferred the present appeal.

The High Court perused the witness evidence and noted that from a conjoint reading of testimonies, it emerged that the witnesses were greatly influenced by the shocking death of a young woman. It was pointed out that in the first instance, the witnesses failed to reveal material facts to the Investigating Officer, but when such facts were revealed in trial, their testimonial value was substantially reduced as they appeared to be improvements and become prone to be doubted. Moreover, it was observed that such improvements were made by related witnesses which made it all the more doubtful because as per the normal rule the court scrutinizes evidence of related witness with greater caution. In such circumstances, it was held that the prosecution failed to establish the charge under Section 498-A beyond a reasonable doubt.  Therefore, the impugned order was set aside and the appellant was acquitted on benefit of doubt. [Sanjit Das v. State of Tripura, 2019 SCC OnLine Tri 27, dated 09-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Observing the approach of the trial court to be wholly misdirected and erroneous, a Single Judge Bench comprising of R.K. Gauba, J. allowed a criminal appeal setting aside the judgment of the trial court whereby the appellant was convicted under Section 376 IPC for raping his daughter.

During the pendency of the appeal, which was finally adjudicated after 17 years it was presented, the appellant died and the appeal was prosecuted by his wife. The appellant was alleged to have committed rape on prosecutrix- her daughter on several occasion. Resultantly, she became pregnant after which the appellant asked her to write a suicide note implicating one Bhushan and commit suicide. Thereafter, the prosecutrix went missing and subsequently, she lodged FIR against the appellant. Notably, at relevant time, the prosecutrix was a minor and the appellant had also filed an FIR under Section 363 IPC alleging that Bhushan had kidnapped her. However, the FIR lodged by the appellant was lodged without any probe and he was tried and convicted under Section 376 by the trial court. Aggrieved thereby, the appellant filed the instant appeal.

The High Court perused the record and was of the opinion that this was a case of one-sided probe and unfair trial. The version of the prosecutrix was highly questionable and even witness testimony was suspicious. The basis for giving a clean chit to Bhushan was left to the imagination. Collection of evidence was also unsatisfactory. Also, the appellant cried foul from day one and demanded DNA test to be done. The police did not listen and even the trial court did not pass any direction. The Court deplored the inaction on part of all concerned. It was held that the conviction of the appellant could not be allowed to stand. Resultantly, the appeal was allowed and the appellant was acquitted of the charge. [Kapil Kumar Beri v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2018 SCC OnLine Del 13023, dated 19-12-2018]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of Pakistan: A Three-Judge Bench comprising of Mian Saqib Nisar, Asif Saeed Khan Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, JJ. while hearing an appeal against conviction on charges of blasphemy, ruled in favour of the accused holding that the prosecution could not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

This matter has its genesis in a criminal case filed by one Qari Muhammad Salaam against the appellant – a Christian – who allegedly uttered derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad while plucking berries with around 25 other Muslim ladies. In a public meeting, appellant confessed her guilt and an FIR was registered against her. The trial court convicted the appellant under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 and sentenced her to death. Her death sentence was confirmed by the High Court. The instant appeal was filed challenging the order of conviction.

The appellant contended that she had been wrongly implicated owing to a heated altercation between her and the complainant. Further, her confession was coerced in front of a gathering that threatened to kill her.

The Supreme Court appreciated the facts and evidence on record and noted the following:

  • The entire prosecution case revolved around an allegation of two Muslim ladies who did not even appear before the court to support the prosecution case. It was strange that none of the other Muslim co-workers heard appellant’s purported blasphemous statements.
  • There was an inordinate delay of five days in lodging the FIR which casted a serious doubt about the probity of witnesses. As per the law laid down in Zeeshan @ Shani v State, 2012 SCMR 428, absence of any plausible explanation regarding delay in lodging of FIR is fatal to prosecution story and extends benefit of doubt to the accused.
  • There were several inconsistencies in statements of the prosecution witnesses which casted a doubt on prosecution’s story, entitling the appellant to right of benefit of doubt. The court relied on decision in Ayub Masih v State, PLD 2002 SC 1048 to hold that even a single circumstance creating doubt about guilt of accused, entitles him to benefit of doubt as a matter of right.
  • The Court relied on Nasir Javaid v State, 2016 SCC OnLine Pak SC 11 to observe that evidence of extra-judicial confession is a fragile piece of evidence which must always be looked at with doubt and suspicion due to ease with which it may be concocted.
  • Furthermore, as per Article 37 of the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order, 1984, a confession of accused caused by inducement, threat or promise is irrelevant in a criminal proceeding.
  • Lastly, the court stated that it was a well-settled principle of law that onus to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt lay on the prosecution. Concepts of ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ and ‘presumption of innocence’ are closely linked – if the presumption of innocence is a golden thread to criminal jurisprudence, then proof beyond reasonable doubt is silver, and these two threads are forever intertwined in the fabric of criminal justice system. As such, where there is any doubt in the prosecution story, the benefit should be given to the accused.

In view of the above, the appeal was allowed, impugned orders of the trial court and High Court were set aside and appellant was directed to be released from jail. [Asia Bibi v. State,2018 SCC OnLine Pak SC 2, decided on 08-10-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Bench comprising of Ranjan Gogoi and R. Banumathi, JJ. reversed the decision of the Gujarat High Court which had acquitted the accused of the charges under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.

The accused were working in the Non-Agriculture Department. The complainant was a businessman who wanted to start a new firm. Permission for non-agricultural use of the land was sought from the Department. The accused were alleged to have demanded bribe for expediting the process. Rs 500 were paid to the Accused 1 through Accused 2, who was caught red-handed in the trap laid by the ACB. They were tried for the offences punishable under Sections 7 and 13(1)(d) of the Act. The trial court convicted the accused and sentenced them accordingly. However, on appeal, the High Court acquitted the accused holding that the case was not proved against the accused. Aggrieved by this decision, the State preferred the instant appeal.

At the outset, the Supreme Court observed that to prove the offence of bribe, the demand and acceptance of illegal gratification was sine qua non. On the facts of the case, the Court found that statements of PWs 1 and 2 along with the recovery of bribe amount after following proper procedure by the ACB, proved the case against the accused. Further, it was observed that the presumption against the accused under Section 20 is a rebuttable one and the degree of proof is the preponderance of probabilities. However, in the present case, the accused were not able to give any explanation to rebut that presumption. In such circumstances, the Supreme Court was of the opinion that the High Court ought not to interfere with the decision of the trial court that suffered from no infirmity. Hence, the impugned judgment of the Gujarat High Court was set aside and that of the trial court was reaffirmed. However, considering that the matter was almost 27 years old, the sentence of the accused was reduced from 2 years to 1 year. [State of Gujarat v. Navinbhai Chandrakant Joshi,2018 SCC OnLine SC 699, dated 17-07-2018]