Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: K.R. Shriram, J., dismissed an appeal filed by the Union of India against the order of the trial court whereby the respondents were acquitted of offences under various provisions of the Customs Act, 1962.

The respondents were accused of illegal dealing in foreign marked gold biscuits. Pursuant to information received, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence affected a raid and search of premises where they found the respondents and recovered 24 marked gold biscuits along with large quantities of foreign and Indian currency. The respondents were brought to the DRI Office. Summons were issued to them under Section 108 of the Customs Act and their statements were recorded. After completion of the investigation, a complaint was filed against the respondents. Before the trial court, the respondents took the stand they were poor villagers who came to Mumbai in search of work. While searching for a job, somebody gave them the address of the said premises, and they had reached there just a couple of minutes prior to the raiding party. At the conclusion of the trial, the respondents were acquitted by the trial court, Aggrieved thereby, the Union of India filed the instant appeal.

The High Court noted that the respondents had, at the first opportunity, filed an application before the Metropolitan Magistrate for retracting their statements recorded under Section 108. The prosecution asserted that the statements of the respondents were voluntarily and correctly recorded without any force or inducement. However, the High Court found that there was no independent corroboration by any witness of the Section 108 statements of the respondents.

Discussing whether the statement of respondents was to corroborated, K.R. Shriram, J. observed, “If I have to simply accept the statement recorded under Section 108 as gospel truth and without any corroboration, I ask myself another question, as to why should anyone then go through a trial. The moment the Customs authorities recorded the statement under section 108, in which the accused has confessed about his involvement in carrying contraband gold, the accused could be straightaway sent to jail without the trial court having recorded any evidence or conducting a trial.”

The Court reiterated that in absence of any corroboration by an independent and reliable witness, a statement recorded under Section 108 in isolation could not be relied upon.

Furthermore, it was also noted that the Judgment of acquittal was passed in 2001 and more than 19 years have passed since. In such view of the matter, the High Court held that the order of acquittal passed by the trial court did not warrant interference. Accordingly, the appeal filed by the Union of India was dismissed. [Union of India v. Kisan Ratan Singh, 2020 SCC OnLine Bom 39, decided on 07-01-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: Tirthankar Ghosh, J., reversed the order of the trial court (as confirmed by the first appellate court) whereby the petitioner was convicted and sentenced for committing an offence under Section 40(2) read with Section 51(1-A) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

The petitioner was accused of unlawfully possessing various wildlife material including tiger skin, elephant tusks, baby rhino born and tiger nails. All this material was seized during the search conducted by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence. The petitioner was charged under provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act. At the conclusion of the trial, he was convicted and sentenced as mentioned above. His appeal against the order of the trial court was also dismissed by the appellate court. Aggrieved thereby, the petitioner filed the instant revision petition.

It may be noted, that during the investigation, the accused was summoned under Section 108 of the Customs Act, 1962, and his statement was recorded in response to enquiries which were made in presence of a senior intelligence officer.

While perusing the record and considering submissions made on behalf of the parties, the High Court noticed that the statement of the accused-petitioner recorded under Section 108 of the Customs Act was made the foundation of his conviction by the trial court. Relying on Noor Aga v. State of Punjab, (2008) 16 SCC 417 and State of Gujarat v. Anwar Osman Sumbhaniya, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 282, the High Court rejected the approach of the trial court and observed: “The statement under Section 108 of the Customs Act which has been made the foundation for conviction by the Ld. Courts below, firstly is a very weak piece of evidence, as no Court can rely upon a statement of the accused until and unless the same is corroborated by material particulars. Moreover, the said statement under Section 108 of the Customs Act were made before the DRI Authorities which can be used in a prosecution under the Customs Act and using the same as a foundation for an offence under the 1972 Act is against the settled principles of law. 

In such view of the matter, the High Court allowed the revision petition and acquitted him of the charges as aforementioned. [Quasim Ali v. Sajal Baran Das, 2019 SCC OnLine Cal 5130, decided on 23-12-2019]