Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In a case where the Gujarat High Court had acquitted a man booked for the offences under Section 7 read with Sections 13(1) & 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ has set aside the impugned judgment of the High Court after noticing that,

“The High Court has only made general observations on the depositions of the witnesses examined. However, there is no re-appreciation of the entire evidence on record in detail, which ought to have been done by the High Court while dealing with the judgment and order of conviction passed by the Learned Trial Court.”

The Court noticed that being First Appellate Court, the High Court was required to re-appreciate the entire evidence on record and also the reasoning given by the Learned trial Court while convicting the accused.

“Non-re-appreciation of the evidence on record may affect the case of either the prosecution or even the accused.”

Presumption of innocence – When available?

An Appellate Court while dealing with an appeal against acquittal passed by the Learned trial Court, is required to bear in mind that in case of acquittal there is double presumption in favour of the accused.

Firstly, the presumption of innocence is available to him under the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved guilty by a competent court of law.

Secondly, the accused having secured his acquittal, the presumption of his innocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strengthened by the trial Court.

Therefore, while dealing with the cases of acquittal by the trial Court, the Appellate Court would have certain limitations.

The Court, further, relied on the decision in Umedbhai Jadavbhai v. State of Gujarat, (1978) 1 SCC 228, wherein it was observed,

“Once the appeal is entertained against the order of acquittal, the High Court is entitled to re-appreciate the entire evidence independently and come to its own   conclusion. Ordinarily, the High Court would give due importance to the opinion of the Sessions Judge if the same were arrived at after proper appreciation of the evidence. The High Court would be justified against an acquittal passed by the Learned Trial Court even on re-appreciation of the entire evidence independently and   come to its own conclusion that acquittal is perverse and manifestly erroneous”.  

However, so far as the appeal against the order of conviction is concerned, there are no such restrictions and the Court of appeal has wide powers of appreciation of evidence and the High Court has to re-appreciate the entire evidence on record being a First Appellate Court.

“Keeping in mind that once the Learned Trial Court has convicted there shall not be presumption of innocence as would be there in the case of acquittal.”

Conclusion

The Court, hence, found the approach of the High Court in dealing/non¬dealing with the evidence to be patently illegal leading to grave miscarriage of justice.

“The High Court ought to have appreciated that it was dealing with the offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act which offences are against the society. And therefore, the High Court ought to have been more careful and ought to have gone in detail. We do not approve the manner in which the High Court has dealt with the appeal.”

It was, therefore, the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court acquitting the respondent – accused without adverting to the reasons given by the Learned trial Court while convicting the accused and without reappreciating the entire evidence on record in detail cannot be sustained and the same deserves to be quashed and set aside.

The matter was, hence, remanded to the High Court to consider and deal with the appeal afresh in accordance with law and on its own merits keeping in mind the observations made in the case at hand.

[State of Gujarat v. Bhalchandra Laxmishankar Dave, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 52, decided on 02.02.2021]


*Justice MR Shah has penned this judgment

Appearances before the Court: 
For State of Gujarat: Advocate Deepanwita Priyanka,
For Respondent-accused: Senior Advocate J.S. Attri and advocate Haresh Raichura
Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Holding that the Court should not have encroached upon the field reserved for the legislature, the 3-judge bench has partially set aside the 2-judge verdict in Dr Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 243, decided on 20.03.2018. The 3-jduge bench of Arun Mishra, MR Shah and BR Gavai, JJ has held that some portions of the said verdict were against the concept of protective discrimination in favour of down­trodden classes under Article 15(4) of the Constitution and also impermissible within the parameters laid down by this Court for exercise of powers under Article 142 of Constitution of India.

The guidelines laid down in the March, 2018 verdict were:

(i) Proceedings in the present case are clear abuse of process of court and are quashed.

(ii) there is no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide.

(iii) arrest of a public servant can only be after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the S.S.P. which may be granted in appropriate cases if considered necessary for reasons recorded. Such reasons must be scrutinized by the Magistrate for permitting further detention.

(iv) to avoid false implication of an innocent, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the DSP concerned to find out whether the allegations make out a case under the Atrocities Act and that the allegations are not frivolous or motivated.

(v) any violation of the direction of the Court will be actionable by way of disciplinary action as well as contempt.

Challenging the said verdict, the Union of India argued that Section 18 of the Act of 1989 has been enacted to take care of an inherent deterrence and to instil a sense of protection amongst member of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It submitted,

“any dilution of the same would shake the very objective of the mechanism to prevent the offences of atrocities. The directions issued would cause a miscarriage of justice even in deserving cases.  With a view to object apprehended misuse of the law, no such direction can be issued.”

Accepting the contention, the Court held that the guidelines in (iii) and (iv) appear to have been issued in view of the provisions contained in Section 18 of the Act of 1989; whereas adequate safeguards have been provided by a purposive interpretation by this Court in the case of State of M.P. v. R.K. Balothia, (1995) 3 SCC 221.

“The consistent view of this Court that if prima facie case has not been made out attracting the provisions of SC/ST Act of 1989, in that case, the bar created under section 18 on the grant of anticipatory bail is not attracted. Thus, misuse of the provisions of the Act is intended to be taken care of by the decision above.”

It further said that directions (iii) and (iv) issued may delay the investigation of cases. As per the amendment made in the Rules in the year 2016, a charge sheet has to be filed to enable timely commencement of the prosecution. The directions issued are likely to delay the timely scheme framed under the Act/Rules.

Considering the plight of the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the Court said that the SCs/STs are still making the struggle for equality and for exercising civil rights in various areas of the country. The members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are still discriminated against in various parts of the country. It said,

“if we cannot provide them protective discrimination beneficial to them, we cannot place them at all at a disadvantageous position that may be causing injury to them by widening inequality and against the very spirit of our Constitution. It would be against the basic human dignity to treat all of them as a liar or as a crook person and cannot look at every complaint by such complainant with a doubt.”

The Court also noticed that there is no presumption that the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes may misuse the provisions of law as a class and it is not resorted to by the members of the upper Castes or the members of the elite class. It said that the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes due to backwardness hardly muster the courage to lodge even a first information report, much less, a false one. In case it is found to be false/unsubstantiated, it may be due to the faulty investigation or for other various reasons including human failings irrespective of caste factor.

“There may be certain cases which may be false that can be a ground for interference by the Court, but the law cannot be changed due to such misuse. In such a situation, it can be taken care in proceeding under section 482 of the Cr.PC.”

The Court, hence, held,

“we are of the considered opinion that direction Nos.(iii) and (iv) issued by this Court deserve to be and are hereby recalled and consequently we hold that direction No. (v), also vanishes.”

[Union of India v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1279, decided on 01.10.2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Acknowledging the abuse of law of arrest in cases under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (the Atrocities Act), the bench of AK Goel and UU Lalit, JJ said that the legislature never intended to use the Atrocities Act as an instrument to blackmail or to wreak personal vengeance nor was it intended to deter public servants from performing their bona fide duties. It was, hence, held that unless exclusion of anticipatory bail is limited to genuine cases and inapplicable to cases where there is no prima facie case was made out, there will be no protection available to innocent citizens.

The Court said:

“the Act cannot be converted into a charter for exploitation or oppression by any unscrupulous person or by police for extraneous reasons against other citizens as has been found on several occasions. … Any harassment of an innocent citizen, irrespective of caste or religion, is against the guarantee of the Constitution.”

Background:

The Court was hearing an appeal against the order of the Bombay High Court where it was held that no public servant or reviewing authority need to apprehend any action by way of false or frivolous prosecution, but the penal provisions of the Atrocities Act could not be faulted merely because of possibility of abuse. In the present matter, certain adverse remarks were recorded under the Atrocities Act against the appellant who was serving as the Director of Technical Education in the State of Maharashtra at the relevant time. Apart from the facts of the present appeal, it was brought to the Court’s notice that there are instances of abuse of the Act by vested interests against political opponents in Panchayat, Municipal or other elections, to settle private civil disputes arising out of property, monetary disputes, employment disputes and seniority disputes.

Conclusion:

The Court held:

“an accused is certainly entitled to show to the Court, if he apprehends arrest, that case of the complainant was motivated. If it can be so shown there is no reason that the Court is not able to protect liberty of such a person. There cannot be any mandate under the law for arrest of an innocent. The law has to be interpreted accordingly.”

Holding that mere unilateral allegation by any individual belonging to any caste, when such allegation is clearly motivated and false, cannot be treated as enough to deprive a person of his liberty without an independent scrutiny, the Court issued the following directions:

  • there is no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide.
  • arrest of a public servant can only be after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the S.S.P. which may be granted in appropriate cases if considered necessary for reasons recorded. Such reasons must be scrutinized by the Magistrate for permitting further detention.
  • to avoid false implication of an innocent, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the DSP concerned to find out whether the allegations make out a case under the Atrocities Act and that the allegations are not frivolous or motivated.
  • any violation of the direction of the Court will be actionable by way of disciplinary action as well as contempt.

[Dr Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 243, decided on 20.03.2018]