Cur­sory ac­quit­tals may lead to harsh pe­nal law, says SC

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES NATION - Dhanan­jay.Ma­ha­p­a­tra @times­group.com

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.

CAUTIONING JU­DI­CIARY

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