Cursory acquittals may lead to harsh penal law, says SC
New Delhi: In a warning to the judiciary that too much stress on the adage ‘let a thousand guilty go free than convict an innocent’ resulted in cursory acquittals leading to public outcry, the SC on Wednesday said this led Parliament to give harsher punishments to convicts, such as death penalty for rapists.
A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul found that in a 1992 incident in which three people were murdered and five injured in Amreli, UP, the trial court had wrongly framed charges and it was not corrected by the HC. Many of the accused died during pendency of the case, some were acquitted and the rest served their sentences.
Slamming the state, prosecutor and judiciary for the casual approach, Justice Chelameswar, writing the judgment, recalled a 1973 SC judgment penned by Justice V R Krishna Iyer, who had frowned upon “excessive solicitude” of the judiciary towards the accused by adopting the adage ‘let no innocent be held guilty’.
In the judgment, Justice Iyer had said, “If unmerited acquittals become general, they tend to lead to a cynical disregard of the law, and this in turn leads to a public demand for harsher legal presumptions against indicted persons and more severe punishment of those found guilty. Thus, too frequent acquittals of guilty may lead to aferocious penal law, eventually eroding the judicial protection of the guiltless.”
Justice Chelameswar said, “This should be etched on the walls of every criminal court.”The bench said Justice Iyer’s prophecy came true “when Section 21of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act, 1987, burdened the accused to prove his innocence, and when Parliament responded to public outcry to impose more harsh punishment on persons found guilty of rape under Section 376 IPC etc”.
The bench said there was a complete failure of justice in the Amreli triple murder case and the normal consequence would be to order a fresh trial. “But such a course of action after 26 years of the crime, in our opinion, would not serve any useful purpose,” it said.
Taking recourse to the public damage principle, the SC asked the state government to pay Rs 25 lakh each to the kin of the three deceased and Rs 10 lakh each to the five injured persons within eight weeks through the Amreli sessions court.