Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court: In an interesting case regarding regular bail, Jaishree Thakur, J., held that WhatsApp messages do not have any evidentiary value in the absence of certificate under Section 65B of Evidence Act, 1872.

On receipt of secret information that two consignments contained contraband, the Narcotics Bureau, Headquarters, Chandigarh arrived at the Regional Office of DTDC Courier Agency and called one Paramjit Kaur (consignor of the parcels), who confirmed that she had booked the parcels herself, on being asked by the petitioner to do so. The consignments contained contraband of Tramadol Hydrochloride 100 mg (Trade Name Clovidol-100 SR), 57,000 tablets which were of commercial quantity. Counsel for the petitioner, R.S. Rai submitted that Narcotics Bureau was relying upon the statement given by a co-accused implicating the petitioner. It was contended that the said disclosure statement could not be relied upon nor can any statement made by him in the judicial custody be relied upon as incriminating evidence against him. Reliance was placed by the petitioner on Tofan Singh v. State of Tamil Nadu, (2013) 16 SCC 31, wherein the Supreme Court dealt with the question,

Whether an officer “empowered under Section 42 of the NDPS Act” and/or “the officer empowered under Section 53 of the NDPS Act” are “Police Officers” and therefore, statements recorded by such officers would be hit by Section 25 of the Evidence Act? The supreme Court, while answering the abovementioned question had held, “a confessional statement made before an officer designated under Section 42 or Section 53 can be the basis to convict a person under the NDPS Act, without any non obstante clause doing away with Section 25 of the Evidence Act, and without any safeguards, would be a direct infringement of the constitutional guarantees contained in Articles 14, 20 (3) and 21 of the Constitution of India.’’

 The respondent submitted that there were screen shots of Whatsapp messages available with it, which would connect the petitioner with the said contraband, as there was a message available showing transfer of an amount by the petitioner into the account of Harjinder Singh, husband of Paramjit Kaur.

The Court stated that complicity of the petitioner would have to be determined by the quality of evidence led during trial. The Narcotics Bureau was relying not only upon the statement given by a co-accused implicating the petitioner but also upon some screenshots of whatsapp messages. It was observed that ratio, as laid down in Tofan Singh’s case, would come to the aid of the petitioner to allow him the benefit of regular bail. The Court, while relying on Arjun Panditrao Khotkar v. Kailash Kushanrao Gorantyal, (2020) 7 SCC 1, held, a certificate Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act is required when reliance is being placed upon electronic record. Therefore, the said message would be of no evidentiary value as on date.”  Hence, the petitioner was granted bail on execution of adequate personal/surety bond of an amount of Rs.10 Lakhs. [Rakesh Kumar Singla v. Union of India, CRM-M No.23220 of 2020 (O&M), decided on 14-01-2021]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A Bench comprising of R. Banumathi and Indira Banerjee, JJ. while deciding an appeal against the conviction of appellant under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 reiterated the law regarding the evidentiary value of extra-judicial confessions.

The appellant was convicted for misappropriation of money entrusted to him as a public servant. He worked in United Commercial Bank and was accused of making fake account entries and thereby causing wrongful loss to the Bank. When the fraud came to light, a committee of two officers was deputed to hold preliminary enquiry which recommended investigation in the matter. Subsequently, an FIR was registered, trial held and the appellant was convicted under Sections 13(1)(c) and 13(2) of the PC Act along with Section 477-A IPC. The conviction of the appellant was based on the extra-judicial confession submitted by the appellant to the committee of two officers mentioned above. The judgment of the trial court was confirmed by the Himachal Pradesh High Court.

The Supreme Court, on perusing the record, was of the view that conviction of the appellant did not require any interference. Referring to Madan Gopal Kakkad v. Naval Dubey, (1992) 3 SCC 204, it was reiterated that extra-judicial confession of accused need not in all cases be corroborated. The rule of prudence necessarily does not require that each and every circumstance mentioned in the confession must be separately and independently corroborated. If the Court is satisfied that the confession is voluntary, the conviction can be based upon the same. In the instant case, trial court as well as the High Court concurrently held that the confession statements were voluntarily made and the same could form the basis for conviction. The Supreme Court did not find any reason to interfere. Therefore, the conviction of the appellant was upheld. However, considering the passage of time, as the occurrence was of the year 1992-94,  the sentence imposed was reduced to three years from five years. The appeal was disposed of accordingly. [Ram Lal v. State of H.P.,2018 SCC OnLine SC 1730, decided on 03-10-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Each criminal trial is but a quest for search of the truth.

Supreme Court: The Bench comprising of Ranjan Gogoi, Navin Sinha and K.M. Joseph, JJ. disposed of a criminal appeal filed against the judgment of Delhi High Court whereby the order of the trial court acquitting the appellant was reversed and she was convicted under Sections 302, 307 and 34 IPC.

The appellant, along with other co-accused, was alleged to have murdered the family (brother, sister, and mother) of her son-in-law (PW 1). As per prosecution case, the motive for the crime being that the accused were not happy with the marriage of her daughter with PW 1. The trial court, after appreciation of evidence, convicted four out of seven accused;  the appellant and two others were acquitted. However, the High Court, on an appeal, reversed the order of acquittal as far as the appellant was concerned. She was sentenced to undergo life imprisonment. Further, she was denied any remission in sentence until she completed 25 years in custody. Aggrieved thereby, the present appeal was filed by the appellant.

While adjudicating, the Supreme Court discussed the weightage of evidence by different witnesses, the duty of a Judge, and the proportionality of sentence in a criminal trial. A few of the important points as discussed and reiterated by the Court are delineated hereinafter:

  • In a criminal trial, normally the evidence of wife, husband, son or daughter is given great weightage on the principle that there is no reason for them not to speak the truth and shield the real culprit.
  • There is no reason why the same principle cannot be applied when such a witness deposes against a closely related accused.
  • It would require great courage of conviction and moral strength for a daughter to depose against her mother.
  • While appreciating the evidence of a witness, the approach must be whether the evidence of the witness read as a whole inspires confidence.
  • The prosecution evidence may suffer from inconsistencies here and discrepancies there, but that is a shortcoming from which no criminal case is free. The main thing to be seen is whether those inconsistencies go to the root of the matter or pertain to insignificant aspects thereof.
  • The duty of a Judge presiding over a criminal trial is not merely to see that no innocent person is punished, but also to see that a guilty person does not escape. One is as important as the other. Both are public duties which a Judge has to perform.
  • Sentencing has always been a vexed question as part of the principle of proportionality. Once the appellant has been convicted with the aid of Section 34 IPC, there appears no justification to single out that convict for differential treatment in sentencing.

In the facts and circumstances of the present case, the Court held that the judgment impugned whereby the order of appellant’s acquittal passed by the trial court was reversed by the High Court, did not require interference. However, on the basis of the last point as delineated hereinabove, the direction given by the High Court for denial of remission in sentence to the appellant for 25 years was set aside. The appeal was disposed of in terms above. [Shamim v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1559, decided on 19-09-2018]