Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case dating back to 1999 where a married woman was found dead in her matrimonial home, the bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul* and Hrishikesh Roy, JJ upheld the conviction of her husband even though a large number of witnesses had turned hostile and the Trial Court was also not happy with the manner of prosecution conducted the case.

“… that is not an unusual event in the long drawn out trials in our country and in the absence of any witness protection regime of substance, one has to examine whatever is the evidence which is capable of being considered, and then come to a finding whether it would suffice to convict the accused.”


Factual Background


On 24.8.1999, one Sahodara Bai was found dead by her brother (PW 1) on a cot in her matrimonial home. It was alleged that few days ago, on 19.8.1999, the deceased had returned to her maternal home stating that she had been harassed at the hands of her in-laws for the last 6-7 months.  Her brothers brought her back to her matrimonial home with the hope of reconciliation. On being asked whether they wanted her to live with them, the in-laws responded that they will see for a few days and then decide. The deceased thereafter stayed back at her matrimonial home.

The post-mortem report stated that the cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation, and the nature of death was possibly homicidal. After all other causes of death were ruled out, on 21.7.2000, the Sessions Court held all the three accused persons guilty of offences punishable under Section 302 of the IPC.

An important aspect to be taken note of is that there was some improvement in the statement of PW-1, the brother of the deceased, to the extent that he had never mentioned deceased’s father-in-law’s explanation of the death of the deceased by snake bite in the earlier statement. All other aspects were found to be consistent with his earlier statements.


Analysis and Ruling


Stating that the fact of a large number of witnesses turning hostile was not consequential in the present case as the brother who turned hostile did so to preserve the close family ties which continued to exist by marriage in the instant case, in view of the siblings of the deceased and appellant herein being married. In the Indian context, there exists a continued relationship between two families wherein the daughter-in-law comes from another house.

On the fact that the case of the prosecution rested only on the testimony of PW-1 and the medical evidence, the Court noticed that the statement of PW-1 was consistent and cogent except to the extent that in the earlier statement he had not mentioned the factum of the death being attributed to snakebite.

“However, that itself would not nullify the remaining part of his testimony. In fact, the said witness did not back out from the statement, but could not state the reason why the police did not record it in the FIR though it was mentioned.”

On the testimony of the doctor, it was noticed that the doctor opined the cause of death to be asphyxia due to strangulation and thereafter, he had stated that nature may be homicidal.

“This was so stated because asphyxia being the cause of death, the doctor himself could not have conclusively said whether it was homicidal or suicidal. It was also voluntarily opined, that there had to be a minimum of five minutes of forceful pulling to cause the death.”

Further, stating that the most important aspect is where the death was caused and the body found, the Court noticed that it was in the precincts of the house of the appellant herein where there were only family members staying. The location of the house and the surrounding buildings was such that there was no possibility of somebody from outside coming and strangulating the deceased and that too without any commotion being caused or any valuable/jewellery missing.

“We are confronted with a factual situation where the appellant herein, as a husband is alleged to have caused the death of his wife by strangulation. The fact that the family members were in the home some time before is also quite obvious. No explanation has been given as to how the wife could have received the injuries. This is a strong circumstance indicating that he is responsible for commission of the crime.”

The Court, hence, said that the appellant herein was under an obligation to give a plausible explanation regarding the cause of the death in the statement recorded under Section 313 of the Cr.P.C. and mere denial could not be the answer in such a situation.

Dismissing the appeal, the Court directed the State to examine

“… whether the appellant herein has completed 14 years of actual sentence or not and if it is so, his case should be examined within a maximum period of two months for release in accordance with norms. If not, the exercise be undertaken within the same time on completion of 14 years of actual sentence.”

[Jayantilal Verma v. State of MP (now Chhattisgarh), 2020 SCC OnLine SC 944, decided on 19.11.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Allahabad High Court: J.J., Munir, J., addressed a matter wherein the father of the minor children has been facing trial for criminal charges and has instituted the petition seeking custody of his minor children.

The instant petition was instituted for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two minor children.

Minors’ Custody

It was stated that respondent 4 and respondent 5 be directed to produce the two minor-children detenues before the Court and minors be given into the father’s custody who has instituted the instant petition.

Digvijay Singh, counsel for the petitioners and Pankaj Kumar Tyagi, counsel appearing on behalf of respondent 4 and Sri Jhamman Ram, Additional Government Advocate appearing on behalf of the State.

Analysis and Decision

The issue of minor’s custody in the present matter came into light after the unnatural death of their mother, regarding which Awadesh Gautam (husband) and four others of his family were reported to the police by the respondent 4 charging them with murder and destruction of evidence.

It was alleged that the minors were taken forcibly by respondent 4 when the husband of the deceased was sent to jail.

Bench on perusal of the above stated observed that the question regarding maintainability of a habeas corpus writ petition to decide issues regarding custody of children or guardianship between a parent snd some other kindred, or between two parents, both of whom are natural guardians, all of this has been fairly well-settled. The stated issue came up for consideration before the Supreme Court in Syed Saleemuddin v. Dr Rukhsana, (2001) 5 SCC 247 wherein it was held that:

“…in an application seeking a writ of Habeas Corpus for custody of minor children the principal consideration for the Court is to ascertain whether the custody of the children can be said to be unlawful or illegal and whether the welfare of the children requires that present custody should be changed and the children should be left in care and custody of somebody else. The principle is well settled that in a matter of custody of a child the welfare of the child is of paramount consideration of the Court.”

In Tejaswini Gaud v. Shekhar Jagdish Prasad Tewari, (2019) 7 SCC 42 it was held that:

“19. Habeas corpus proceedings is not to justify or examine the legality of the custody. Habeas corpus proceedings is a medium through which the custody of the child is addressed to the discretion of the Court. Habeas corpus is a prerogative writ which is an extraordinary remedy and the writ is issued where in the circumstances of the particular case, ordinary remedy provided by the law is either not available or is ineffective; otherwise a writ will not be issued. In child custody matters, the power of the High Court in granting the writ is qualified only in cases where the detention of a minor by a person who is not entitled to his legal custody. In view of the pronouncement on the issue in question by the Supreme Court and the High Courts, in our view, in child custody matters, the writ of habeas corpus is maintainable where it is proved that the detention of a minor child by a parent or others was illegal and without any authority of law.

20. In child custody matters, the ordinary remedy lies only under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act or the Guardians and Wards Act as the case may be. In cases arising out of the proceedings under the Guardians and Wards Act, the jurisdiction of the court is determined by whether the minor ordinarily resides within the area on which the court exercises such jurisdiction. There are significant differences between the enquiry under the Guardians and Wards Act and the exercise of powers by a writ court which is summary in nature. What is important is the welfare of the child. In the writ court, rights are determined only on the basis of affidavits. Where the court is of the view that a detailed enquiry is required, the court may decline to exercise the extraordinary jurisdiction and direct the parties to approach the civil court. It is only in exceptional cases, the rights of the parties to the custody of the minor will be determined in exercise of extraordinary jurisdiction on a petition for habeas corpus.”

In the present matter, Court stated that the custody cannot be termed as unlawful. Respondent 4 is the minors’ grandmother who has been given custody of the minors’ by Neeraj Gautam, the cousin or relative of Awadhesh’s in the presence of the Station House Officer.

Awadhesh who is the father of the minors’ could say that being the natural guardian of the two minors’ he has the right to seek their custody from the grandmother.

It is precisely this right which Awadhesh asserts, by virtue of Section 6 (a) of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956. He says he is the sole natural surviving guardian, and therefore, entitled to the minors’ custody. It is, no doubt, true that Awadhesh is the minors’ natural guardian under Section 6 (a) of Act, 1956, but the issue about the minors’ custody is not so much about the right of one who claims it, as it is about the minors’ welfare.

The issue of welfare of the child cannot be mechanically determined. It is to be sensitively approached, taking into consideration both broad and subtle factors that would ensure it best.

The principle governing custody of minor children, apart from other issues, fell for consideration of the Supreme Court in Nil Ratan Kundu v. Abhijit Kundu, (2008) 9 SCC 413.

In the above-cited case, the facts disclose that the father, who claimed the minors’ custody from his maternal grandfather and grandmother was like her, an accused in a case relating to his wife’s dowry death. Fathers’ involvement in a case relating to wifes’ dowry death was regarded by the Supreme Court as an important factor to be carefully addressed.

“…fact about the involvement of a natural guardian, in a criminal case relating to the death of a spouse, was held to be an important consideration while determining the question of welfare of the minor.”

Court interacted with the eldest amongst the minors’ who expressed that he is not disturbed at all about the fact that his maternal grandmother has placed him and his sister at Sri Braddhanand Bal Ashram. 

Further, the child added that he does not wish to go back to his father or stay with him. On being asked the reason, he says that he fears for his life. He also said that he wishes to stay at the hostel. During the course of the conversation, the child emotionally brokedown and wept. He insisted upon staying with the hostel and refused to go back to his father.

Later the Court looked into the allegations for which the father was facing trial, wherein it was noted that the wife had called up her mother stating that there was a conspiracy afoot, where she could be crushed to death under the wheels of a tractor. Later on, she was found dead near portraying it as an accident.

The totality of the circumstances on record shows that unless acquitted, it would not be appropriate to place the two minor children in their father’s custody.

Bench held that the father is not entitled to the minors’ custody when he is facing criminal charges. Once he is acquitted, it would be open to him to make an appropriate application seeking their custody to the Court of competent jurisdiction under the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.

In the totality of the circumstances obtaining for the present, this Court did not find it appropriate to grant any visitation rights to Awadhesh Gautam.[Shaurya Gautam v. State of U.P., 2020 SCC OnLine All 1372, decided on 10-11-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a chilling case where a 21-year-old man was sentenced to death under Sections 302 and to life imprisonment under 376A of IPC for raping and killing his 2.5 years-old niece, the 3-judge bench of Justice UU Lalit*, Indu Malhotra and Krishna Murari, JJ has commuted the punishment to life imprisonment for the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC and to that of rigorous imprisonment for 25 years for the offence punishable under Section 376A IPC. The Court also affirmed the conviction and sentence recorded by the Courts below for the offences punishable under Section 376(1), (2)(f), (i) and (m) of IPC, and under Section 6 of the POCSO Act.


Sentencing under Section 302 IPC


The Court found the Appellant guilty of having committed the offence of culpable homicide amounting to murder under Section 300 IPC Fourthly. In such cases, according to the Court, it is very rare that the death sentence is awarded.

Considering the age of the victim i.e 2.5 years, the Court said that the accused must have known the consequence that his sexual assault on the child would cause death or such bodily injury as was likely to cause her death.

“The evidence on record also depicts an exceptional case where two and half years old girl was subjected to sexual assault. The assault was accompanied by bites on the body of the victim. The rape was of such intensity that there was merging of vaginal and anal orifices of the victim. The age of the victim, the fact that the Appellant was a maternal uncle of the victim and the intensity of the assault make the present case an exceptional one.”

However, it could not be held that the appellant consciously caused any injury with the intent to extinguish the life of the victim. Though all the injuries are attributable to him, his conviction under Section 302 IPC is not under any of the first three clauses of Section 300 IPC.


Sentencing under Section 376A IPC


The case at hand was a peculiar one as the offence was committed just a week after the amended Section 376A was brought into force in the year 2013. Hence, the question before the Court was whether awarding life imprisonment in the present case would mean “the remainder of that person’s natural life or with death” or not.

Two important conclusions were made by the Court:

  • The ex-post facto effect given to Section 376A inserted by the Amendment Act would not in any way be inconsistent with sub-Article (1) of Article 20 of the Constitution.
  • In view of the fact that Section 376A IPC was brought on the statute book just few days before the commission of the offence, the Appellant does not deserve death penalty or life imprisonment for the remainder of his life for said offence, however, considering the nature and enormity of the offence, the appropriate punishment for the offence under Section 376A IPC must be rigorous imprisonment for a term of 25 years.

To understand what led to this conclusion, let’s first take a look at the legislative developments that took place around the time when the crime was committed:

  • On 03.02.2013, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013 was promulgated by the President of India which substituted Sections 375, 376 and 376A of IPC;
  • The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 received the assent of the President and was published on 02.04.2013 but was given retrospective effect from 03.02.2013.
  • The offence was committed on 11.02.2013 when the provisions of the Ordinance were in force

Here’s what the coming into force of the Ordinance and subsequently the Amendment Act meant:

  • Before 03.02.2013, the offence under Section 375 could be committed against a woman. The Ordinance sought to make the provision gender neutral and this gender-neutral provision remained in force from 03.02.2013 till 02.04.2020. However, the earlier position was restored through the Amendment Act.
  • Before 03.02.2013, the sentence for an offence under Section 376(1) could not be less than seven years but the maximum sentence could be life imprisonment; and for an offence under Section 376(2) the minimum sentence could not be less than ten years while the maximum sentence could be imprisonment for life. Section 376A dealt with cases where a man committed non-consensual sexual intercourse with his wife in certain situations.
  • As a result of the Ordinance, the sentences for offences under Sections 376(1) and (2) were retained in the same fashion. However, a new provision in the form of Section 376A was incorporated under which, if while committing an offence punishable under sub- section (1) or sub-section (2) of Section 376, a person “inflicts an injury which causes the death” of the victim, the accused could be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term “which shall not be less than 20 years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, which shall mean the remainder of that person’s natural life or with death”. Thus, for the first time, Death Sentence could be imposed if a fatal injury was caused during the commission of offence under subsection (1) or (2) of Section 376.
  • Though the provisions of the Amendment Act restored the original non gender-neutral position vis-à-vis the victim, it made certain changes in sub-section (2) of Section 376. Now, the punishment for the offence could be rigorous imprisonment for not less than ten years which could extend to imprisonment for life, “which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life”. It was, thus, statutorily made clear that the imprisonment for life would mean till the last breath of that person’s natural life.
  • Similarly, by virtue of the Amendment Act, for the offence under Section 376A, the punishment could not be less than 20 years which may extend to imprisonment for life which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life, or with death.

In the present case, when the crime was committed, the victim was about two and half years of age and the Ordinance which was holding the field. However, the sentence prescribed by Section 376(2) as amended by the Amendment Act, provided that the imprisonment for life “shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life”. In such a case, the Court was posed with the question that whether such ex-post facto prescription would be consistent with the provisions of sub-Article (1) of Article 20 of the Constitution.”

The Court explained,

“An imposition of life sentence simpliciter does not put any restraints on the power of the executive to grant remission and commutation in exercise of its statutory power, subject of course to Section 433A of the Code. But, a statutory prescription that it “shall mean the remainder of that person’s life” will certainly restrain the executive from exercising any such statutory power and to that extent the concerned provision definitely prescribes a higher punishment ex-post facto. In the process, the protection afforded by Article 20(1) of the Constitution would stand negated.”

It was further held that since Section 376A as amended by the Ordinance being gender neutral so far as victim was concerned, naturally covered cases where a victim was a woman, hence, the ex-post facto effect given to Section 376A by the Amendment Act from the day the Ordinance was promulgated, would not in way be inconsistent with the provisions of sub-Article (1) of Article 20 of the Constitution.

It was, hence, declared that the punishment under Section 376(2) of the IPC in the present case cannot come with stipulation that the life imprisonment “shall mean the remainder of that person’s life”.

[Shatrughna Baban Meshram v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 901, decided on 02.11.2020]


*Justice UU Lalit has penned this judgment

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of United Kingdom: In the instant appeal where the issue was whether the claimant can recover damages for the “consequences” (including the subsequent loss of liberty) of having committed the criminal offence during a serious psychotic episode, which she would not have committed but for the defendant’s negligence; the 7 Judge Bench of Lord Reed (President), Lord Hodge (Deputy President), Lady Black, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lady Arden, Lord Kitchin and Lord Hamblen unanimously dismissed the appeal holding that the appellant’s claim for damages against Dorset Healthcare is barred by the appellant’s criminal act of manslaughter, and are therefore irrecoverable by reason of the doctrine of ex turpi causa non oritur actio (from a dishonorable cause an action does not arise) i.e. illegality.

Facts:

The appellant suffers from paranoid schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. On 25-08-2010 she stabbed her mother to death while experiencing a serious psychotic episode. She was charged with her mother’s murder but, in view of the psychiatric evidence, the prosecution agreed to a plea of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. The appellant was sentenced to a hospital order under Section 37 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and an unlimited restriction order under Section 41 of the 1983 Act. The appellant has remained subject to detention pursuant to the 1983 Act ever since. Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust (respondent) had admitted their negligence in failing to return the appellant to hospital on the basis of her obvious psychotic state. The tragic killing of her mother would not have occurred had this been done. On the basis of the respondent’s admission of negligence, the appellant furthered her claims to recover damages under several heads, such as- General damages for personal injury (a depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder); damages for her loss of liberty caused by her compulsory detention in hospital; damages for loss of amenity arising from the consequences to her of having killed her mother; cost of caretaker and psychotherapy etc.

The relevant laws and case laws on point:

Before analyzing the merits of the instant appeal, the judges deliberated on the laws dealing with murder; insanity as a defence to murder; diminished responsibility as a partial defence to murder (Section 2 of the Homicide Act 1957); The Sentencing Council Guideline directing the sentencing judge to consider whether the offender’s degree of responsibility is high, medium or lower and the provisions of Mental Health Act, 1983 itself.

The Bench also referred to 2 major case laws dealing with similar issues- Gray v. Thames Trains Ltd, [2009] UKHL 33 and Patel v. Mirza, [2016] UKSC 42. In Gray, the House of Lords had held that Mr. Gray’s negligence claim was barred by the defence of illegality because the damages he sought resulted from: (i) the sentence imposed on him by the criminal court; and (ii) his own criminal act of manslaughter. In Patel, the UK SC had held that the proper approach to the illegality defence at common law was one based on a balancing of public policy considerations. In assessing whether the public interest would be harmed in that way, the Court should consider the underlying purpose of the illegality in question, and whether that purpose would be enhanced by denying the claim; any other relevant public policy on which denying the claim may have an impact; and whether denying the claim would be a proportionate response to the illegality.

Observations:

While deliberating on the appeal, the Bench formulated 3 issues– whether Gray can be distinguished; if not, whether Gray should be departed from; and, can the appellant recover the damages under any of heads of loss she has claimed. The Bench observed that key consideration in Gray was that the claimant had been found to be criminally responsible for his conduct, not the degree of personal responsibility which that reflected. The Bench thereby rejected the appellant’s contention and held that, “Gray cannot be distinguished. It involved the same offence, the same sentence and the reasoning of the majority applies regardless of the degree of personal responsibility for the offending”.

Regarding the 2nd issue, the Court while affirming Gray as being Patel compliant” and should be applied and followed in similar cases, held that the policy reasons which support denial of the appellant’s claim include the consistency and public confidence principles identified in Gray. It was further held that, “Principles also include: the public interest in the proper allocation of NHS resources; close connection between her claim and her offence; and the public interest in deterring, protecting the public from and condemning unlawful killing. Although a claimant in the appellant’s position may not be deterred from unlawful killing by being deprived of a civil right to compensation, there may well be a broader deterrent effect in a clear rule that unlawful killing never pays. Any such effect is important given the fundamental importance of the right to life”.

Finally addressing the 3rd issue, the Bench held that the appellant cannot claim damages for loss of liberty or for loss of amenity during her detention in hospital because these losses resulted from the sentence imposed on her by the criminal court. The other heads of loss cannot be recovered either because they result from the appellant’s unlawful killing of her mother.[Ecila Henderson v. Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust, [2020] UKSC 43, decided on 30-10-2020]


Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee, JJ has held that the conclusion of the criminal trial does not conclude the disciplinary enquiry.

Background of the case


A police constable, who was tried and acquitted in a murder case, had challenged his dismissal from service after a disciplinary enquiry. The Division Bench of the Rajasthan High Court granted the respondent reinstatement in service with no back wages for the seventeen years that elapsed since his termination. The State had, hence, challenged the reinstatement before the Supreme Court.

  • On 13 August 2002, the respondent proceeded on leave and had to report back on duty on 16 August 2002. He failed to do so and eventually reported for work on 19 August 2020.
  • On 15 August 2002, one Daulat Singh lodged a written complaint in relation to the death of his brother Bhanwar Singh, caused by an accident with an unknown vehicle. However, it appeared during the course of the investigation that the death was homicidal. The respondent, along with 2 co-accused was arrested on 9 September 2002.
  • The respondent was tried for the offence of murder and was acquitted by the Sessions Court on 8 October 2003.
  • Departmental proceedings were also initiated against the respondent wherein the charges that were leveled against the respondent were:
    • Over-staying leave by a period of three days beyond the leave that was sanctioned;
    • Not seeking an extension of leave from the superior officer;
    • Involvement in the murder of Bhanwar Singh (the respondent was alleged to have run away from the scene of offence and tried to give it the colour of an accident);
    • Getting additional leave sanctioned by suppressing the correct reason on a misrepresentation to the superior officer; and
    • Conduct which has hurt the image of the police department.
  • In the finding of the Disciplinary enquiry it was noticed that the Court had not completely acquitted the said constable rather acquitted by giving him the benefit of doubt.

“From this it is clear that the Hon’ble Court has not acquitted charged constable in free form. Thus, I found said charge as completely proved due to which the image of police has blurred.”

What the Supreme Court said


On effect of acquittal in criminal trial on disciplinary proceedings

Though the acquittal brought finality to the question as to whether he had committed the offence of murder punishable under the Penal Code, however, the disciplinary enquiry stood on a broader footing. The disciplinary proceedings related not merely to the involvement of the respondent in the murder, but to the violation of service rules and the impact of his conduct on the image of the police force. Hence, the verdict of the criminal trial did not conclude the disciplinary enquiry.

Noticing that the disciplinary enquiry was not governed by proof beyond reasonable doubt or by the rules of evidence which governed the criminal trial, the Court said,

“True, even on the more relaxed standard which governs a disciplinary enquiry, evidence of the involvement of the respondent in a conspiracy involving the death of Bhanwar Singh would be difficult to prove. But there are circumstances emerging from the record of the disciplinary proceedings which bring legitimacy to the contention of the State that to reinstate such an employee back in service will erode the credibility of and public confidence in the image of the police force.”

On proof of misconduct in disciplinary proceedings

The standard of standard of proof in disciplinary proceedings is different from that in a criminal trial

In Suresh Pathrella v. Oriental Bank of Commerce, (2006) 10 SCC 572, a two judge Bench differentiated between the standard of proof in disciplinary proceedings and criminal trials in the following terms:

“ …the yardstick and standard of proof in a criminal case is different from the disciplinary proceeding. While the standard of proof in a criminal case is a proof beyond all reasonable doubt, the proof in a departmental proceeding is preponderance of probabilities.”

Further, the involvement of a member of the police service in a heinous crime, if established, has a direct bearing on the confidence of society in the police and in this case, on his ability to serve as a member of the force. Such an individual is engaged by the State as a part of the machinery designed to preserve law and order. The State can legitimately assert that it is entitled to proceed against an employee in the position of the respondent in the exercise of its disciplinary jurisdiction, for a breach of the standard of conduct which is expected of a member of the state police service.

“Confidence of the State in the conduct and behaviour of persons it has appointed to the police is integral to its duty to maintain law and order.”

On judicial review over disciplinary matters

In exercising judicial review in disciplinary matters, there are two ends of the spectrum. The first embodies a rule of restraint. The second defines when interference is permissible.

Rule of restraint:

“The determination of whether a misconduct has been committed lies primarily within the domain of the disciplinary authority. The judge does not assume the mantle of the disciplinary authority. Nor does the judge wear the hat of an employer.”

Deference to a finding of fact by the disciplinary authority is a recognition of the idea that it is the employer who is responsible for the efficient conduct of their service. Disciplinary enquiries have to abide by the rules of natural justice. But they are not governed by strict rules of evidence which apply to judicial proceedings. The standard of proof is hence not the strict standard which governs a criminal trial, of proof beyond reasonable doubt, but a civil standard governed by a preponderance of probabilities. Within the rule of preponderance, there are varying approaches based on context and subject. The first end of the spectrum is founded on deference and autonomy – deference to the position of the disciplinary authority as a fact finding authority and autonomy of the employer in maintaining discipline and efficiency of the service.

Interference when permissible

“The ultimate guide is the exercise of robust common sense without which the judges’ craft is in vain.”

At the other end of the spectrum is the principle that the court has the jurisdiction to interfere when the findings in the enquiry are based on no evidence or when they suffer from perversity. A failure to consider vital evidence is an incident of what the law regards as a perverse determination of fact. Proportionality is an entrenched feature of our jurisprudence. Service jurisprudence has recognized it for long years in allowing for the authority of the court to interfere when the finding or the penalty are disproportionate to the weight of the evidence or misconduct.

Judicial craft lies in maintaining a steady sail between the banks of these two shores which have been termed as the two ends of the spectrum. Judges do not rest with a mere recitation of the hands-off mantra when they exercise judicial review. To determine whether the finding in a disciplinary enquiry is based on some evidence an initial or threshold level of scrutiny is undertaken. That is to satisfy the conscience of the court that there is some evidence to support the charge of misconduct and to guard against perversity. But this does not allow the court to re-appreciate evidentiary findings in a disciplinary enquiry or to substitute a view which appears to the judge to be more appropriate. To do so would offend the first principle i.e. the rule of restraint.

[State of Rajasthan v. Heem Singh, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 886, decided on 29.10.2020]

Hot Off The PressNews

The National Human Rights Commission issued notice to the Chief Secretary, Director General of Police and the Director-General of Prisons, Madhya Pradesh after taking suo motu cognizance about the allegations made by women on five cops for gang rape in lockup.

It is mentioned in the news report that a 20-year-old woman has levelled allegations that she was kept in lock-up for 10 days in the month of May this year and was subjected to rape by 5 police personnel including the Police Station Incharge and SDPO of Mangawan area of Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh. The woman, as mentioned in the news report, was an accused in a case of murder and presently she is lodged in judicial custody. The incident occurred in the month of May and it came to the knowledge of the District Judge after a period of five months. Even the prison warden did not have the courage to report the matter to the higher authorities.

It is further added that as alleged by the victim woman, she was subjected to rape between 09-05-2020 to 21-05-2020 while the police contradict, to be arrested on 21-05-2020. The female constable had protested at that time but she was rebuked by her seniors.

The Commission considered the vulnerable position of the victim. She was in police custody when she was allegedly subjected to utmost cruelty and sexual assault by the 5 police personnel. Even a protest made by a female police official went in vain. Very serious allegations have been levelled by the victim woman. Public servants from the law enforcement agencies, who are supposed to safeguard the citizens especially the women and the people from the vulnerable classes of the society have allegedly committed the heinous crime against a woman in their custody.

The Commission directs that the matter may be investigated by a senior police officer, not below the rank of the Deputy Inspector General of Police.


National Human Rights Commission

[Press Release dt. 19-10-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Giving benefit of doubt to the accused convicted under Section 302 IPC r/w Section 34 IPC, the 3-judge bench of SK Kaul, Anirudhha Bose and Krishna Muraji, JJ reiterated that Court can and may act on the testimony of single eye-witness provided he is wholly reliable.

“… the prosecution has miserably failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond doubt the appellants therefore must be given benefit of doubt.”

The Court was heading the matter where the appellants were convicted for killing the deceased by giving him hockey and knife blows. The Trial Court came to the conclusion that the prosecution had brought home the guilt of the accused persons and accordingly sentenced them to Life Imprisonment.

Before the Supreme Court, it was argued by the defence that

  • The knife which was recovered had a blunt tip, as such, the injuries as mentioned in the post mortem report were not possible to be caused by the said knife. Even, this knife was not shown to the doctor to seek his opinion whether injuries were possible by the said blunt knife or not.
  • Recovery of hockey at the instance of the appellant was not even believed by the Trial Court.
  • the conviction and sentence of the appellants based upon the sole testimony of one eye witness, whose conduct was unnatural and inconsistent with the ordinary course of human nature making his presence at the site of incident extremely doubtful, is highly unsafe without corroboration from other piece of evidence.
  • The other two eye witnesses have turned hostile and nothing could be elicited from their cross-examination by the prosecution.

Prosecution argued

  • Two Courts have recorded concurrent finding of guilt of the accused appellants based on the testimony of an eye witness which they found to be reliable and there exists no legal impediment for conviction on the basis of the same.
  • Evidence of a hostile witness is not to be discarded as a whole and relevant parts thereof which are admissible in law can be relied upon by the prosecution.
  • The conviction cannot be assailed merely because of some lacuna in investigation and any failure or omission of the investigating officer cannot render the prosecution case doubtful or unworthy of belief, in a case where the prosecution case is fully established by direct testimony of eye witness duly corroborated by medical evidence.

Considering the submissions and material on record, the Court noticed,

“There is no legal impediment in convicting a person on the sole testimony of a single witness. That is the logic of Section 134 of the Evidence Act, 1872. But if there are doubts about the testimony, Courts will insist on corroboration. It is not the number, the quantity but quality that is material. The time honoured principle is that evidence has to be weighed and not counted. On this principle stands the edifice of 8 Section 134 of the Evidence Act. The test is whether the evidence has a ring of truth, is cogent, credible and trustworthy or otherwise.”

The Court said that in the facts and circumstances of the case this was serious lapse on the part of the investigating officer. Though normally minor lapses on the part of the investigating officer should not come in the way of accepting eye witness account, if otherwise reliable. But in the circumstances of the case at hands where the conduct of sole eye witness is unnatural and there are various other surrounding circumstances which make his presence at the site of incident doubtful, such a lapse on the part of the investigating officer assumed significance and is not liable to ignored.

It was, hence, held,

“… ordinarily this Court could be reluctant to disturb the concurrent view but since there are inherent improbabilities in the prosecution story and the conduct of eye witness is inconsistent with ordinary course of human nature we do not think it would be safe to convict the appellants upon the incorroborated testimony of the sole eye witness.”

[Amar Singh v. State (NCT of Delhi),  2020 SCC OnLine SC 826, decided on 12.10.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jharkhand High Court: Shree Chandrashekhar J., upheld the impugned judgment and dismissed the appeal being devoid of merits.

The case at hand involves murder of a woman Bhondi Khariain by her husband who was found dead at her own residence and her husband found to be absconding. An informant who is a co villager John Kullu informed the police about the same pursuant to which an FIR was registered under Section 300 of Penal Code, 1860 i.e. IPC. An investigation followed by trial was conducted before Additional District and Session, Judge, Fast Track Court who convicted and sentenced him to rigorous imprisonment for life and fine of Rs 5000 under Section 302 IPC for committing murder of his wife.

The present case solely is based on circumstantial evidence due to lack of any eye witness available. The Court relied on a judgment titled Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v.  State of Maharashtra, (1984) 4 SCC 116 and observed that in a case based on the circumstantial evidence, the prosecution must establish the incriminating circumstances by leading cogent and consistent evidence and the circumstances so proved against an accused must lead to irresistible conclusion that it was the accused and the accused alone who has committed the crime and no other hypothesis consistent with the innocence can be inferred.

Circumstantial Evidence 1: Dead body of Bhondi Khariain was found in the house of the appellant

Due to few witnesses turning hostile later during cross-examination and denied making any statement before police regarding accepting that they saw the husband murdering his wife by strangulation through a rope or even seeing the dead body etc, the court relied on a judgment titled Lahu Kamlakar Patil v. State of Maharashtra, (2013) 6 SCC 417 and observed that the evidence of a hostile witness is not liable to be rejected altogether rather it can be used by the prosecution to corroborate its case against the accused. The Court thus believed through this that the deceased died in her matrimonial home.

Circumstantial Evidence 2:  The Medical Evidence

The post mortem report clearly states that the eyes of the deceased were partially open; mouth open and tongue protruded outside the mouth, fracture of thyroid cartilage and subcutaneous tissues under the ligature mark were ecchymosed with bruising of neck muscles, colour bluish. The doctor based on above finding stated that this is a case of accidental death or suicide. The court relied on judgment Vadugu Chanti Babu v. State of A.P. (2002) 6 SCC 547 and observed that a stray statement of the doctor in his cross-examination is not a conclusive opinion but it is only a possibility.

 Circumstantial Evidence 3: The appellant was found absconding

During examination of the accused under Section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the appellant was put this circumstance that he has killed his wife by throttling through a rope in the night of 12.03.2006, however, except stating that it is false and he has not committed the crime, he has not offered any explanation how his wife has died. The Court relied on a judgment titled State of Maharashtra v. Suresh  (2000) 1 SCC 471 and observed that offering no explanation or evasive reply to an incriminating circumstance cannot form the basis for conviction of an accused, but a husband must say something how his wife has died in his house. In a situation like this, the appellant’s offering no explanation on death of his wife would by itself become an incriminating circumstance which would provide a link in the chain of the circumstances.

On Law of Circumstantial Evidence

The Court relied on judgment titled Trimukh Maroti Kirkan v. State of Maharashtra, (2006) 10 SCC 681 and observed:

12. ….…..The normal principle in a case based on circumstantial evidence is that the circumstances from which an inference of guilt is sought to be drawn must be cogently and firmly established: that those circumstances should be of a definite tendency unerringly pointing towards the guilt of the accused: that the circumstances taken cumulatively should form a chain so complete that there is no escape from the conclusion that within all human probability the crime was committed by the accused and they should be incapable of explanation on any hypothesis other than that of the guilt of the accused and inconsistent with their innocence.”

 The Court after hearing facts and perusing the circumstantial evidences in detail held the accused guilty on grounds that the prosecution has led cogent and consistent evidence on the homicidal death of Bhondi Khariain even though the motive for the crime has not been established.

In view of the above, the impugned judgment upheld and the appeal dismissed.[Kandra Kharia v. State of Jharkhand, 2019 SCC OnLine Jhar 2730, decided on 26-11-2019]


Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has put this story together

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee, JJ has held that it is not necessary that before a person is convicted on the ground of common intention, he must be actively involved in the physical activity of assault.  If the nature of evidence displays a pre-arranged plan and acting in concert pursuant to the plan, common intention can be inferred.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE


The Court was hearing the matter where the appellants, convicted under Section 302/34 and sentenced to life imprisonment, had sought acquittal in a case where 2 men died as a result of assault by the appellants. Out of 5, 2 accused were acquitted by the Sessions Court giving them benefit of doubt. While the eye witnesses had deposed of assault upon the two deceased by appellants nos.2 and 3 only. There was no allegation that appellant no.1 was armed in any manner or that he also assaulted any one of the two deceased. It was, hence, contended that there is no material to infer common intention with regard to appellant no.1.

COMMON INTENTION


The Court explained that common intention consists of several persons acting in unison to achieve a common purpose, though their roles may be different. The role may be active or passive is irrelevant, once common intention is established.

“There can hardly be any direct evidence of common intention.  It is more a matter of inference to be drawn from the facts and circumstances of a case based on the cumulative assessment of the nature of evidence available against the participants.”

The foundation for conviction on the basis of common intention is based on the principle of vicarious responsibility by which a person is held to be answerable for the acts of others with whom he shared the common intention. The presence of the mental element or the intention to commit the act if cogently established is sufficient for conviction, without actual participation in the assault. It is therefore not necessary that before a person is convicted on the ground of common intention, he must be actively involved in the physical activity of assault. If the nature of evidence displays a pre-arranged plan and acting in concert pursuant to the plan, common intention can be inferred. A common intention to bring about a particular result may also develop on the spot as between a number of persons deducible from the facts and circumstances of a particular case.

“The coming together of the accused to the place of occurrence, some or all of whom may be armed, the manner of assault, the active or passive role played by the accused, are but only some of the materials for drawing inferences.”

CONCLUSION ON FACTS


The Court took note of the facts that

  • appellant no.1 lay in wait along with the other two appellants who were armed.
  • appellant no.1 stopped the two deceased who were returning from the market. The assault commenced after the deceased had halted.
  • While one deceased died on the spot as a result of the brutal assault, the other was injured in the first assault upon him by appellant no.3, after which he tried to flee.
  • Appellant no 1 along with the other accused chased him, caught hold of him after which he was brutally assaulted. He was then dragged by the accused persons to the place where the first deceased lay motionless.

The Court, hence, said,

“To our mind no further evidence is required with regard to existence of common intention in appellant no.1 to commit the offence in question.”

It, hence, refused to grant any benefit to appellant no.1 on the plea that there is no role or act of assault attributed to him, denying the existence of any common intention for that reason.

[Subed Ali v. State of Assam, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 794, decided on 30.09.2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The Commission takes suo-motu cognizance of the matter and directs the issuance of notice to the Director-General of Police, Uttar Pradesh calling for a detailed report in the matter within 4 weeks including the status of the investigation of the cases registered in connection with both the cases of murder.

The Commission also directs to issue a notice to the Chief Secretary to the Government of Uttar Pradesh calling for a report on whether any relief has been granted to the NOK of the deceased as the state has failed to secure the right to a fair trial of the victim. He is also expected to inform the status of any disciplinary action initiated against the delinquent officers/officials.

According to the police, the deceased man was from Gorakhpur and had come to the village, looking for a teacher named, Sudhir Kumar Singh. As soon as he saw Singh, he took out his father’s gun and killed the teacher, according to the police. After shooting the teacher, the man tried to escape but on spotting a crowd outside the house, he climbed the terrace, waved the gun and fired to keep the villagers at bay. A police team followed him to the terrace but the man escaped and was caught by a crowd, which set upon him. The videos relating to the incident emerged later, showed the man in police custody before the mob grabbed and attacked him.

According to the media reports, several policemen were present on the spot when the incident occurred. Some of the policemen were seen trying to control the crowd but the blows did not stop even when the man lay motionless. The police station in-charge of the area has been suspended for negligence. The victim’s head appeared to have been bashed in as the ground was splattered with blood.

The Commission has perused the contents that cruel high handedness by the villagers, taking law in their hands that too in the presence of police force, cannot be denied. A well-equipped police team was present on the spot when the victim was brutally attacked with sticks and stones.

The police personnel present at the time of the fateful incident and their in-charge definitely failed to do their lawful duty. Human life has been lost due to the apparent negligence of the public authority. This is a serious violation of human rights.


NHRC

Press Release dt. 08-09-2020

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Lord Kelyng, J., while distinguishing the offence of manslaughter from murder, held the accused guilty for the offence of murder acknowledging the element of ‘malice’

Brief Facts

The accused, Mr. John Mawgridge was invited by the deceased Mr. Cope, Lieutenant of the Queen’s guard in the Tower, and the principal officer commanding there. During the exchange of hot words between the accused and a woman present in the room, Mr. Cope intervened and warned the accused to mind his conduct. Subsequently, the accused lost his temper and assaulted Mr. Cope, with a sword, on the left part of his chest, striking and piercing through, thereby mortally wounding him. Fatefully, Mr. Cope succumbed to his death. The accused pleaded not guilty on the charge of murder and hence the present trial.

 Issue                                                                                             

  1. Whether the accused in the present case committed murder or manslaughter?
  2. Whether the act committed is protected by any exception to murder?

 Decision

Convicting the accused for murder, the Court observed that there is an express malice in the nature and manner of Mawgridge throwing the bottle and drawing his sword thereupon. An intention accompanied by a well-designed act is reflected which cannot diminish or find any alteration to by the act of Mr. Cope. In no case, can the Court believe the present act of brutality to be something of so low a degree as manslaughter. The Court further made a significant distinction between, Envy, hatred and malice, stating;

  1. Envy is repining or being grieved at the happiness and prosperity of another, invidus alterius rebus macrescit opimis.
  2. Hatred, which is odium, is a settled mind of one towards another, leveling upto several degrees. It may arrive to so high a degree that it provokes a man against whom the feeling of hatred exist, though not being a perpetrator himself.
  3. Malice is a design formed of doing mischief to another and he who designs or uses the means to do ill, is malicious.

Further, the Court enumerated certain rules to identify the offence of manslaughter by illustrations;

  1. If a man upon angry words shall make an assault upon another, either by pulling him by nose, or filliping upon the forehead, and he that is so assaulted that he draws his sword, and immediately run the other through, that is but manslaughter.
  2. Secondly, if a man’s friend be assaulted by another or engaged in a quarrel that comes to blows, and he in the vindication of his friend, shall on a sudden take up a mischievous instrument and kill his friend’s adversary, that shall be manslaughter.
  3. Thirdly, if a man perceives another by force to be injuriously treated, pressed or restrained of his liberty and though the person abused does not complain or call for aid or assistance, the others out of compassion come to his rescue and kill any of those who so restrain him, shall be called a manslaughter.
  4. Fourthly, when a man is stabbed for adultery against the other man’s wife, it shall be considered a case of manslaughter.

Relied/referred judgments and rules

  1. Grey’s Case, 18 Car. 2, In this case, the master (Mr. Grey), in anger, struck an iron bar upon the head of his servant (Mr. B), against which the latter succumbed to death. Noticeably, there was an element of alleged provocation by the servant but the Court decided it as murder, observing that even if it is accepted that the negligent act of the servant was a provocative factor, the degree of retaliation was heavily too violent, disproportionate and reflective of malice.
  2. Clement against Sir Charles Blunt; Clement, in the instant case, had promised a dog to Sir Charles Blunt and being requested accordingly, refused and beat the dog home to his house. Mr. Blunt fetched his sword and came to Clement’s house for the dog. Clement stood at the door and refused his entry. Blunt thereupon killed Clement. The jury held his act to be of
  3. Buckner’s case; Buckner was indebted and B, C came to his chamber upon the account of his creditor to demand the unpaid sum of money. B took a sword that hung up and was in the scabbard, stood at the door with it in his hand undrawn, to keep the debtor in until they could send for a bailiff to arrest him. The debtor, in consequence, took out a dagger which he had in his pocket, and stabbed B. It was held to be a case of manslaughter, for the debtor was insulted and restrained from any movement, without any process of law and though within the words of the Statute of Stabbing, yet not within the reason of it.

[Regina v. Mawgridge, 84 ER 1107 (1707)]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of RF Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee, JJ has directed a de novo investigation into the suspicious death of National Law University (NLU)-Jodhpur student Vikrant Nagaich in 2017.

BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

The third-year law student, Vikrant was found dead on August 14, 2017, under unnatural circumstances near a railway track opposite the university. As per the authorities, the student committed suicide due to alleged depression.

Neetu Kumar Nagaich, the mother of the deceased student, had sought transfer of the investigation in the case from the Rajasthan police to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). She approached the court and accused the state police of “lackadaisical and callous manner of the probe” into the FIR lodged on June 29, 2018, with Jodhpur’s Mandore police station. She has sought an independent inquiry while complaining of a shoddy probe with probable collusion to shield some influentials.

She that the FIR in the case was not registered for a period of 10 months from the date when the incident occurred, and was reluctantly filed thereafter. Three years since, the investigation is at a standstill with no progress and no chargesheet filed in the case, stated the plea. In the plea, she added that the state was “criminally negligent in the investigation” or was “trying to cover” up for the perpetrators or had some malafide intention.

KEY FACTS TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION BY THE COURT

  • The occurrence took place in the intervening night of 13.08.2017 and 14.08.2017.
  • The inquest proceedings under Section 174 Cr.P.C. were registered on 14.08.2017 but remained inconclusive, and in view of the closure report deserves to be consigned. The death of the deceased was initially sought to be passed off as accidental by collision with a train or suicidal due to depression.
  • The F.I.R. under Section 302, IPC was registered very much belatedly on 29.06.2018, albeit reluctantly, only at the persistence of the petitioner and her husband after they repeatedly approached the higher authorities.
  • Even thereafter the investigation remained at a standstill till the filing of the counter affidavit before this Court as recent as 03.07.2020 with the respondents insisting that the death was accidental and that the nature of injuries could not attribute a homicidal death.
  • Earlier the husband of the petitioner had also petitioned the High Court where till 20.07.2019 the respondents insisted that the death was accidental in nature.
  • The Supreme Court had, on 08.07.2020, directed the completion of investigation within 2 months, after which a ‘very lengthy’ investigation closure report was placed before the Court us taking a stand that though the death was homicidal there was no clue.

COURT’S OBERVATIONS

The Court said that the High Court, despite noticing the long pendency of the investigation, took a misguided approach that the petitioner had not expressed suspicion against any one and neither had he alleged biased against the Investigating Officer, to pass an open ended order to investigate the case and file a report. Hence, the investigation remained inconclusive for nearly three long years with the investigating agency sanguine of passing it off as an accidental death without coming to a firm conclusion avoiding to complete the investigation.

The Court noticed that when, on 08.07.2020, it directed that the investigation be concluded within a period of two months and the final report be placed before it, suddenly a very lengthy investigation closure report was filed taking a stand that though the death was homicidal there was no clue. It, hence, said that

“The closure report is therefore, to our mind, a clear hasty action leaving much to be desired regarding the nature of investigation, because if a detailed investigation had already been done as is sought to be now suggested, there is no reason why a final report could not have been filed by the investigating agency in the normal course of events and needed an order to do so from this Court. The entire investigation and the closure report therefore lack bonafide.”

It was, hence, of the opinion that the interest of justice therefore requires a de novo investigation to be done, to sustain the confidence of the society in the rule of law irrespective of who the actors may be.

DIRECTIONS

  • closure report set aside and a de novo investigation by a fresh team of investigators to be headed by a senior police officer of the State consisting of efficient personnel well conversant with use of modern investigation technology also directed.
  • No officer who was part of the investigating team leading to the closure report shall be part of the team conducting de novo investigation.
  • fresh investigation must be concluded within a maximum period of two months and the police report be filed before the court concerned whereafter the matter shall proceed in accordance with law.

[Neetu Kumar Nagaich v. State of Rajasthan, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 741, decided on 16.09.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ has held that there is no hard and fast rule that in a case of single injury Section 302 IPC would not be attracted and that the same depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case.

“The nature of injury, the part of the body where it is caused, the weapon used in causing such injury are the indicators of the fact whether the accused caused the death of the deceased with an intention of causing death or not.”

In the case before the Court, it was argued that s it is a case of a single blow, Section 302 IPC shall not be attracted. Rejecting the contention, the Court said that it cannot be laid down as a rule of universal application that whenever the death occurs on account of a single blow, Section 302 IPC is ruled out. The fact situation has to be considered in each case, the events which precede will also have a bearing on the issue whether the act by which the death was caused was done with an intention of causing death or knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without intention to cause death. It is the totality of the circumstances which will decide the nature of offence.

It was further argued that the motive alleged for the incident is prior to four months of the incident in question and, therefore, as such, the prosecution has failed to establish and prove the motive for the accused to kill the deceased.

The Court rejected this contention as well and said that

“motive is not an explicit requirement under the Penal Code, though “motive” may be helpful in proving the case of the prosecution in a case of circumstantial evidence.”

Considering that in the case at hand there were three eye­witnesses to the incident and the prosecution has been successful in proving the case against the accused by examining those three eye­witnesses and therefore, as rightly observed by the High Court, assuming that the alleged motive is the incident which had taken place prior to four months or the prosecution has failed to prove the motive beyond doubt, the same shall not be fatal to the case of prosecution.

Considering the totality of the facts and circumstances of the case and more particularly that the accused inflicted the blow with a weapon like knife and he inflicted the injury on the deceased on the vital part of the body, the Court held that it is to be presumed that causing such bodily injury was likely to cause the death.  Therefore, the case would fall under Section 304 Part I of the IPC and not under Section 304 Part II of the IPC.

[Stalin v. State, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 723, decided on 09.09.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: B. Pugalendhi, J., while addressing a petition, observed that,

“An impartial investigation is the basic requirement for any investigation. A fair investigation is also a part of constitutional right guaranteed under Articles 20 & 21 of the Constitution of India.”

“Majority of people are now hailing the police encounters and majority of people are now opting for other modes of redresses, like Kangaroo Courts, etc.”

Respondent had filed a final report against the Appellant for the offence under Sections 341, 302 and 394 r/w 397 of Penal Code, 1860.

Trial Court did not find the appellant guilty for the offence under Section 394 r/w 397 IPC but found him guilty for the offence under Section 341 and 304 (ii) IPC.

Property Dispute

Deceased Senthil had a property dispute with the family of one Ponnusamy.

Ponnusamy’s brothers Udayar and Jeyaraman; and one Sabarimalai surrounded the deceased was stabbed.

Mohideen Basha, Counsel for the appellant and Robinson, Government Advocate [Crl Side].

Decision

Bench noted certain lapses in the investigation of the present case.

High Court called the CD file to find out the manner in which the investigation was conducted.

Further, the Court stated that the investigation agency acted in a casual manner, so as to bury the truth and the real accused, who committed the brutal murder on a poor man escape from the clutches of law.

Hence, the appeal was allowed and the conviction and sentence imposed on the appellant were set aside.

Supreme Court’s decision in Popular Muthiah v. State, (2006) 7 SCC 296, was also cited.

The investigation must be unbiased, honest, just and in accordance with the law. The purpose of the investigation is to bring out the truth of the case before the Court of law.

In the present matter, it has been obliterated and the investigation has proceeded in a causal manner as to the whims and fancies of the investigation agency.

Court added that,

“1000 culprits can escape, but, one innocent person should not be punished.”

The available materials, in this case, expose the perfunctory and designed investigation and therefore, this Court is left with no other option except to interfere with the judgment of conviction passed by the trial Court.

A Crime is a public wrong, which involves the public rights of the community as a whole and also harmful to the society in general.

Criminal Justice System

It was also stated that the responsibility of the investigation agency in the criminal justice system plays a major role and they are, in fact, the kingpins in the criminal investigation system.

We are taking pride that the Tamil Nadu State Police is one of the best investigation agencies in the World and it is because of the exemplary service rendered by our police officers.

We cannot allow this reputation of the agency to be eroded by some irresponsible officers.

— Madras High Court

Further, the High Court also observed that the Tamil Nadu Police Reforms Act was enacted in the year 2013, yet it has not been implemented in letter and spirit.

Investigation

An investigation is not a mechanical work, which can be conducted in a casual manner, it requires expertise, knowledge and technical skills to collect the materials, which could unearth the truth.

Concluding the decision, Court stated that the accused can be declared innocents and can be set at liberty, either on the merits of the case or on the lapses committed by the Department. If it is on the lapses committed by the Department, steps should be taken on the side of the Department to avoid the same.

An innocent person does not deserve to suffer the turmoil of long drawn litigation, spanning over a decade or more.

Court placed certain queries for the State and DGP to give their response which are as follows:

i) How the investigation officers are equipped with the knowledge and expertise in conducting a criminal investigation and how it is ensured by the superior officials?

ii) Whether any disciplinary proceedings have been initiated as against the officials, who are responsible for acquittal because of their perfunctory investigation?

iii) How the superior officers, namely, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Additional Superintendent of Police, Superintendent of Police, Deputy Inspector General of Police and Inspector General of Police are monitoring the investigation?

iv) In the case of lapses in the investigation, whether the investigation officer alone is responsible or the higher officials, who are expected to monitor the investigation, are also responsible?

v) The steps taken by the Government in fully implementing the decision of the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh v. Union of India, (2006) 8 SCC 1 and the Tamil Nadu Police Reforms Act, 2013, in letter and spirit, in all the police stations.

vi) The steps taken by the Government in implementing the decision of the Supreme Court in State of Gujarat v. Kishanbhai, (2014) 5 SCC 108.

vii) The steps taken by the Government and the Department, to implement the amendments made to Sections 161, 164 and 275 CrPC?

viii) The steps taken by the Government and the Department, to implement the amendments to Sections 161, 164 and 275 CrPC, pursuant to the direction of the Division Bench of this Court in Satheesh Kumar’s case (supra).

ix) Whether the Circulars issued by the Director-General of Police then and there are strictly complied with? In the event of non-compliance, whether any disciplinary proceedings are contemplated against them and if so, the details thereof.

x) Whether the circulars issued by the Director-General of Police are readily available in all the police stations, in the form of a manual and whether they are available in the common platform, such as websites, so that, it can be accessed by the general public?

xi) The existing mechanism to enhance the quality of investigation among the investigation officers and the ways and means to enhance the same as to the present-day scientific advancements.

xii) The possibility of issuing a checklist including the steps to be carried out by the investigation officers, step by step, depending upon the nature of crime and the applicability and training using advanced scientific techniques, like fixing the accused using call details and tower location, etc., and how such collected details be marked/produced before the Court.

xiii) Why not compensation of Rs 10,00,000 be awarded to the victim in this case, who suffered because of the perfunctory investigation, which could be recovered from the investigation officers, namely, PW 12, Thiru N. Muthukumar; and PW 14, Thiru Poun and the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Sivagangai concerned?

xiv) The Secretary to Government, Home, Excise and Prohibition Department; and the Director-General of Police, Chennai, shall give their comments/proposal as to the present case and the further course of action, if any, in view of the fact that ten years have lapsed since the commission of offence.

xv) Ways and means to address the issue raised & to effectively overcome the same.

xvi) Any other suggestions to avoid the acquittals due to such perfunctory investigations, in future, so as to regain the losing glory of the Department.

The present matter listed for 22-09-2020. [Balamurugan v. State, 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 2165, decided on 08-09-2020]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The National Human Rights Commission, India has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports that an 18-year old Dalit girl was found raped and murdered in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh after she stepped out to fill a scholarship form online as she did not have internet access at home. She was a first-generation learner in her family and had aspirations of landing a government job to lift her family out of poverty.

The Commission has issued notices to the Chief Secretary and the Director-General of Police, Uttar Pradesh calling for a detailed report in the matter within 4 weeks. The report must mention the status of the statutory relief and any other assistance provided by the state government to the family of the victim.

Criminal intent

The Commission has observed that apparently, the people with criminal intent have no fear and respect for law and the innocent women, particularly from the vulnerable classes of the society are easily targeted by them. This is the duty of the state to make a fearless environment for its citizens so that they can live with respect and dignity.

Murder

According to the media reports, carried today on 27th August, 2020, the girl was murdered by a man whose marriage proposal she had rejected. The man was arrested on Wednesday. The dead body was found on 25.08.2020 in a dried pond in an area that falls under Neemgaon police station jurisdiction.

Heinous Crime

Reportedly, the girl, second of four children of the family, was the one, the parents had pinned their hopes on. She had just passed class 9th and was about to start her class 10th, the first one from her family to study up to that level. The only source of income for the family is a 2 Bigha plot. The girl aiming to get a Scheduled Caste scholarship would have helped ease some of the financial burden on the family but before it could happen, she became the victim of a heinous crime.


National Human Rights Commission

Press Release dt. 27-08-2020

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of Sunil P. Deshmukh and B.U. Debadwar, JJ., upheld the decision of the Additional Sessions Judge and discussed the credibility and competency of a child witness.

Present appeal was filed under Section 374 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 against the judgment of the lower court, whereunder the appellant has been convicted of offences punishable under Section 302 and 309 of Penal Code, 1860.

Fidelity

Appellant since the start of his marriage used to ill-treat his wife i.e. deceased raising doubt about her fidelity.

On a fateful day, appellant assaulted on person of the deceased by giving blows of pestle and blade o her neck and other vital organs of the body.

Attempt to Commit Suicide

After causing the death of the deceased, the appellant tried to commit suicide by inflicting injuries on the neck and both hands by a sharp-edged object.

FIR

First Informant lodged FIR against the appellant for the offence under Sections 302 and 309 of the Penal Code, 1860. Thereafter trial was conducted wherein the appellant was held guilty.

Petitioners’ Counsel P. S. Paranjape argued that the Additional Sessions Judge failed to appreciate that PW-4 a child witness was fully tutored by PW-2 (first informant).

According to the appellant’s counsel, the aged act of moving inside and outside the house after allegedly committing the crime in the naked condition is not a normal act.

No sane person would move after committing such a serious crime in naked condition in a locality where his house situates.

Decision and Analysis

Bench on perusal of the facts and circumstances of the case stated that the prosecution case is based on circumstantial evidence.

Court observed that the issue of the homicidal death of the deceased was not disputed in the present matter.

Child Witness

Further, the bench noted that before recording the evidence Additional Sessions Judge ascertained as to whether master Krishna Akhade is a competent witness and whether oath can be administered to him by putting certain preliminary questions.

Considering the tender age of the child, the Lower Court Judge decided no to administer the oath to him.

High Court stated that,

Merely for the reason that, master Krishna Akhade (PW-4) was in the custody of Sonawane (PW-2) prior to his entering into the witness box, inference cannot be drawn that, Mangesh Sonawane (PW-2) had tutored him before coming to the court for giving evidence.

The aspect of competency and credibility of child witness under Section 115 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 was dealt with in the Supreme Court decision of Dattu Ramrao Sakhare v. State of Maharashtra, (1997) 5 SCC 341.

Court relying on the above-stated decision held that the evidence of master Krishna Akhade is reliable and there is no likelihood of him being tutored.

Section 106 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides that, ‘when any fact is especially within the knowledge of any person, the burden of proving that fact is upon him’.

When tests of reliability and free from tutoring are satisfied, merely for the reason that oath was not administered to master Krishna Akhade (PW-4), his evidence cannot be kept out of consideration under Section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Appellant – accused has not brought on record any material fact either from the cross-examination of witnesses examined by the prosecution or by producing any defence witness on the basis of which inference can be drawn either that during the fateful morning at the instance of Sangita quarrel broke out and in that quarrel, Sangita had attacked appellant and while defending himself he assaulted Sangita or that some third person either for committing theft or for other reason had entered into the house and assaulted Sangita and appellant, both.

On perusal of the evidence and material on record, the case of the prosecution is squarely covered by clause three of Section 300 IPC.

Defence of insanity is not correct in the present matter and is a mere afterthought.

Witnesses examined by the prosecution are neither interested nor inimical in the present matter. 

While the incident took place inside the house, front and rear doors which are entry points were locked and closed from inside. There was no scope for the third person to enter and at the time of the incident, except appellant-accused, Sangita and their tender aged two children, nobody was present in their house.

Appellant failed to explain as to how the said incident took place.

Attempt to Suicide

Bench held that the chain leading to the conclusion that, none other than the appellant is the assailant and after committing the murder of wife had attempted to commit suicide.

Court upheld the decision of Additional Sessions Judge and dismissed the present criminal appeal. [Bhatu v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 868, decided on 21-08-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of R.D. Dhanuka and Surendra P. Tavade, JJ., upheld the trial court’s decision based on circumstantial evidence of a woman murdering her newly born female child.

Appellant has filed the present appeal against the judgment passed by the Additional Sessions Judge by which she was convicted for the offence punishable under Section 302 of Penal Code, 1860. Appellant has been acquitted for Section 317 IPC — Exposure and abandonment of child under twelve yearsby parent or person having care of it.

Facts of the Case

Informant while going to attend his duty saw a newly born female child lying beside the road, alive and lodged a complaint regarding this at the Uran police station.

PW11 in the meanwhile reached the spot and took the child to his house wherein his mother PW-6 bathed the child and later reported the matter to the police.

Later the police made enquiry with Hirabai who informed that she saw the appellant as pregnant, therefore police called the appellant.

Police took the child, appellant and Hirabai to the hospital wherein the child and appellant were allotted Cot No. 4. After a few hours, nurse found out that the child was movementless and on examining the child it was found that the child was dead.

In the postmortem report, it was found that the child died due to strangulation. Hence, crime no. 89 of 1993 was registered against the appellant.

Appellant was put under arrest and charge sheet was filed under Sections 317 and 302 IPC.

Trial Court on going through the evidence of record acquitted the appellant under Section 317 IPC but convicted her for the offence punishable under Section 302 IPC.

Circumstantial Evidence

When the case is based on circumstantial evidence, the motive plays a vital role. Generally, motive remains in the mind of the culprit, so it is difficult to prove it. The motive can be proved by circumstances of the case and the acts of the culprit.

In view of the circumstances of the present matter, it is clear that the custody of the child was with the appellant at the time of the death of the child.

The crucial circumstance against the appellant/accused is that she was having custody of the child in the hospital and ultimately child found dead on Cot No.4; so the effect of an acquittal of the appellant/accused under Section 317 of the Indian Penal Code would not come in the way of the prosecution to hold her guilty under Section 302 of the IPC.

It would have been a shame for the appellant/accused and the delivery of child would have affected her character since she was a widow for 8 years. Hence, the appellant/accused had a motive to done away with the life of the child

Homicidal Death

Prosecution has proved all the circumstances namely the abandonment of child, the good physical condition of the child prior to the death, the child was in possession of appellant/accused since the child was referred to the Rural Hospital, Uran. The prosecution has proved the homicidal death of the child.

Hence the Court concluded that chain of circumstances against the appellant was also proved beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt.

“There was nobody else except the appellant to commit murder of the said child.”

In view of the above circumstances, the appeal was dismissed. [Kamlabai Tukaram Gharat v. State of Maharashtra, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 850, decided on 11-08-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of T.V. Nalawade and M.G. Sewlikar, JJ., directed that the persons who are aggrieved with regard to the care and treatment amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic can approach the Court directly.

Court has taken suo moto cognizance to see that all the authorities from all the districts which are under Court’s jurisdiction become active and they remain active till the virus is active.

Bench further observed that, the Court had earlier in of the orders directed the authorities to supply information with regard to the steps taken by them to contain the spread of virus in the village area.

“…on one hand the number of infected persons in city area is coming down on the other hand the number of infected persons from rural area is going up and the trend is still in upward direction.”

Though the inter-district travel has been prevented till 31-08-2020, yet, persons from cities like Pune, Mumbai, Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), etc. returned to their native places also some have bought properties in smaller cities and shifted themselves due to the virus spread.

In the line with the observations, another observation by the Court was when Justice T.V. Nalawade went for Court inspection to Jalna. He went with necessary pass and at the entry point of Jalna, he noticed that there was no strict checking and police force posted there were not asking to show pass to anybody. Casual inquiry was being made with the travellers and they were allowing the vehicles from Aurangabad side to Jalna side. This approach must have helped in spreading of the virus in the parts of this region.

Strict vigil needs to be kept and unless that is done, the authorities will not be in a position to control the things.

Further with regard to public servants, Court stated that,

“…in the situation which is created by the virus the public servants need to be tested and the servants who are useless need to be removed from the service by fling complaints against them in police station under the special Enactments like Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, Disaster Management Act, 2005 etc.”

Further, the Court expects that every order made by this Court is communicated to the authorities from all the districts which are under the jurisdiction of this Court. These orders need to be communicated to the private institutions like private hospitals as action can be taken against them under the provisions of Special Enactments.

Another complaint that the Court noted was of an infected person who had no supply of oxygen and was complaining about breathlessness, but nobody was there to supply oxygen to him. Eventually, he died that night.

Culpable Homicide not amounting to Murder

Bench stated that, when such grievance as stated above are present, it becomes the duty of the authorities concerned to fix the responsibility and give the complaint to police as such conduct is not less offence of than culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

CCTV System

Court wants affidavit of all the authorities or concerned officers to show that there is an installation of a CCTV system in isolation centers. CCTV systems should be installed in private hospitals also where the treatment is being given to infected persons.

Court added that, in our society, there are many who cannot afford to pay charges of private hospitals. It is learned that many poor persons and the persons who have no influence are not able to get admissions in hospitals even when they are infected.

Hence, in view of the above circumstances, the Court allows all those persons who have a grievance with regard to the care and treatment of infected persons to approach the Court directly.

State to supply information in respect of reservation of beds in designated hospitals and use of those beds. Information about the availability of ventilators and the deaths due to the non-availability of ventilators also needs to be supplied.

Information on action taken against negligence shown in treatment to be given to the Court.[Registrar (Judicial) v. UOI, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 836, decided on 31-07-2020]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of New Zealand: A Bench comprising Glazebrook, O’ Regan and Ellen France, JJ. dismissed an application for extension of time to apply for leave to appeal, filed by a man convicted of gang-rape and murder whose appeal against conviction had been rejected by the Court of Appeal.

The appellant was sentenced to life imprisonment, along with two other men, for the rape and murder of a woman in 1994. He appealed unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal against this conviction, and has applied out of time for leave to appeal against that decision in the instant case.

During trial, the appellant had denied any responsibility for the injuries inflicted on the victim and apart from his confession of having consensual intercourse with the victim, there was no forensic evidence linking him to the scene. Moreover, he was not known to the co-accused persons before the incident. In the absence of evidence of direct involvement, he had been charged for forming a common intention with the other men of raping the victim and assisting each other in the act, and that he was aware of the risk that one of the co-accused could inflict grievous injury on the woman for committing rape and/or avoiding detection.

The applicant’s main contention in the first appeal was that there was insufficient evidence for his conviction, particularly the murder verdict. He contended that the interests of justice favour an extension of time, since correction of a miscarriage of justice is more important than the finality of a decision.

The Court accepted the Crown’s submission that the delay in filing this application is significant and largely unexplained. Moreover, the Crown would be prejudiced by the delay, due to the deaths of the defence counsel at trial and the expert witness on confabulation at trial and the absence of the former’s files and of original disks.

The Bench found that “the strength of the proposed grounds of appeal is not such as to provide a compelling reason to extend time.” It found that there are alternative remedies, such as an investigation by the Criminal Cases Review Commission or an application to the Governor-General to exercise the royal prerogative of mercy, which provide a more suitable forum to resolve the factual issues raised by the instant application. The Court rejected the application for extension of time to apply for leave to appeal, stating that the criteria for granting a leave to appeal were not met. [Mikaere Oketopa v. R, [2020] NZ SC 75, decided on 31-07-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A bench headed by RF Nariman, J has granted Rajasthan Police two months deadline to complete the investigation into the suspicious death of National Law University (NLU)-Jodhpur student Vikrant Nagaich in 2017.

The court was hearing a plea by the student’s mother seeking transfer of the investigation in the case from the Rajasthan police to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Neetu Kumar Nagaich, the mother of the deceased student, had approached the court and accused the state police of “lackadaisical and callous manner of the probe” into the FIR lodged on June 29, 2018, with Jodhpur’s Mandore police station. She has sought an independent inquiry while complaining of a shoddy probe with probable collusion to shield some influentials.

The mother of 21-year-old NLU student claimed that the FIR in the case was not registered for a period of 10 months from the date when the incident occurred, and was reluctantly filed thereafter. Three years since, the investigation is at a standstill with no progress and no chargesheet filed in the case, stated the plea. In the plea, she added that the state was “criminally negligent in the investigation” or was “trying to cover” up for the perpetrators or had some malafide intention.

The third-year law student, Vikrant was found dead on August 14, 2017, under unnatural circumstances near a railway track opposite the university. The authorities tried to present the case as that of suicide due to alleged depression.

[Neetu Kumar Nagaich v. State of Rajasthan, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 561 , order dated 08.07.2020]

(With inputs from ANI)