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Supreme Court upholds conviction of 2, asks them to undergo remainder of sentence

The fundamental question of law which occupied the three-judge bench was whether the high court was justified in interfering with the acquittal by the trial court.

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The Supreme Court has upheld the order of conviction of two men by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh 11 years ago in a criminal case of 1996. The court cancelled their bail bonds and directed them to undergo the remainder of their sentences.

In the present appeal, two persons, Achhar Singh and Budhi Singh, had challenged their convictions by the High Court. The High Court had convicted Achhar Singh for the offences under Section 452,326 & 323 IPC and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for five years. The High Court convicted Budhi Singh for the offences under Sections 302 & 452 IPC and sentenced to undergo life imprisonment, plus a fine. The High Court had set aside the order of acquittal by the trial court.

The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose upheld the order of the high court, while stating that the finding of the trial court in ignorance of the relevant material on record was undoubtedly “perverse” and ripe for interference from the high court.

The fundamental question of law which necessitates attention of the three-judge bench in batch of appeals filed by convict-appellants was whether the high court, while exercising its powers under Section 378 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1972 (CrPC), was justified in interfering with the acquittal by the trial court.

The apex court answers the above question in the affirmative by stating that “there is no gainsaid that homicidal deaths cannot be left to judicium dei (The judgment of god). The Court in their quest to reach the truth ought to make earnest efforts to extract gold out of the heap of black sand. The solemn duty is to dig out the authenticity. It is only when the Court, despite its best efforts, fails to reach a firm conclusion that the benefit of doubt is extended.”

The apex court found the order of the trial Court “perverse” and said “an eye-witness is always preferred to others. The statements of P.W.1, P.W.11 and P.W.12 are, therefore, to be analysed accordingly, while being mindful of the difference between exaggeration and falsity. We find that the truth can be effortlessly extracted from their statements. The trial Court apparently fell in grave error and overlooked the credible and consistent evidence while proceeding with a baseless premise that the exaggerated statements made by the eye¬ witnesses belie their version.”

The top court, answering to the appellants’ contention that an appellate Court is not justified in reversing the trial Court’s judgment unless it was found to be “perverse”, has said it is important to point out that in the instant case, the trial Court being overwhelmed by many contradictions failed to identify and appreciate material admissible evidence against the appellants. “The trial Court misdirected itself to wrong conclusions,” held by the Top Court.

The bench relied upon catena of cases wherein the principle is well crystalised that “if two views are possible , the High Court ought not to interfere with the Trial court’s Judgment” .

In Raveen Kumar v State of Himachal Pradesh, 2020 SCC Online Sc 869, the Supreme Court elaborated on procedural aspect of CrPC that it does not in any manner differentiate in power, scope jurisdiction or limitation among appeals against judgment of conviction or acquittal and that appellate court is free to consider on both fact and law.

The 3-judge bench opined on point of impeachable testimonies of witnesses that the trial court found the testimonies of witnesses to be exaggerated, or even if there were material improvements akin to multiple axe blows given to deceased, the court ought to have contemplated the depositions of prosecution witnesses making an allegations against Budhi Singh trespassing into the victim’s house with an axe and hitting deceased Swari Devi on her head and she died instantly due to a head injury was consistent and undisputed, inter alia corroboration with First Information Report and post mortem report. Post mortem report suggest one fatal injury to head by a sharp edged weapon and doctor testimony (Prosecution witness) is conclusive and intact.

The court came to conclusion that Budhi Singh executed axe blow on deceased Swari Devi, having full knowledge that such blow on an old woman’s vital part of body i.e. on head in all probable manner, it will result into her death. Akin to Acchar Singh, involvement, this Bench give the finding that combination of simple and grievous injuries had sustained by Injured Witness i.e. Beli Ram that could have been caused by both sharp and blunt edged weapons.

The apex court dealt in depth with criminal jurisprudence in this case. It said, “It is fundamental in criminal jurisprudence that every person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, for criminal accusations can be hurled at anyone without him being a criminal. The suspect is therefore considered to be innocent in the interregnum between accusation and judgment. History reveals that the burden on the accuser to prove the guilt of the accused has its roots in ancient times.

“A characteristic feature of Common Law Criminal Jurisprudence in India is also that an accused must be presumed to be innocent till the contrary is proved. It is obligatory on the prosecution to establish the guilt of the accused save where the presumption of innocence has been statutorily dispensed with, for example, under Section 113¬B of the Evidence Act, 1872. Regardless thereto, the ‘Right of Silence’ guaranteed under Article 20(3) of the Constitution is one of the facets of presumed innocence.

‘The constitutional mandate read with the scheme of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 amplifies that the presumption of innocence, until the accused is proved to be guilty, is an integral part of the Indian criminal justice system. This presumption of innocence is doubled when a competent Court analyses the material evidence, examines witnesses and acquits the accused.

“Keeping this cardinal principle of invaluable rights in mind, the appellate Courts have evolved a self-restraint policy whereunder, when two reasonable and possible views arise, the one favourable to the accused is adopted while respecting the trial Court’s proximity to the witnesses and direct interaction with evidence. In such cases, interference is not thrusted unless perversity is detected in the decision¬making process.

“It is thus a well crystalized principle that if two views are possible, the High Court ought not to interfere with the trial Court’s judgment. However, such a precautionary principle cannot be overstretched to portray that the “contours of appeal” against acquittal under Section 378 CrPC are limited to seeing whether or not the trial Court’s view was impossible.”

Therefore the Top Court has held, “…upon an in-depth-reading of the trial court & high court records, we are convinced that the high court was merited to interfere with the perverse findings of the trial court and has prevented miscarriage of justice by separating grain from the husks leading to the conviction of the appellants.”

FACTS

ON 23.02.1996, assailants including Acchar Singh and Budhi Singh trespassed in house of complainant Meera Devi (PW)- (wife of Netar Singh) along with mother Swari Devi (Deceased), appellants were carrying axes and rest of assailants were armed with sickles, spears and sticks. Budhi Singh blow axe on head of Swari Devi(deceased) that led to her death on spot and Acchar Singh hit Beli Ram(Injured Witness) with an axe , he fainted thereafter. In this scuffle, Complainant was also beaten with sticks by other villlagers/assailants , she ran to save her life. Complainant barefoot walked to Police station, which was 24 kms away from her village. FIR was lodged at 9.30 am on 24.02.1996.

Read Also: Oxygen shortage: SC sets up 12-member national task force, audit sub-groups in each state, union territory

On what rationale did the trial court acquit the accused

• Exaggeration statements of Prosecution Witnesses made regard to multiple times axe was blown by appellants on the deceased. (some says one time and other says two times – contradictory in nature).
• Medico report of Injured witness Beli Ram not corroborate with the statement of complainant.
• Delay in registration of FIR
• No evidence put forward by complainant to establish the unavailability of telephone network in neighboring village. 

Source ILNS

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