State of Rajasthan Vs.
Mohan Lal  INSC 784 (16 April 2009)
IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF INDIA CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 85 OF 2003 State
of Rajasthan ...Appellant Versus Mohan Lal ...Respondent
Dr. ARIJIT PASAYAT,
in this appeal is by the State of Rajasthan questioning the judgment of a
learned Single Judge of the Rajasthan High Court, Jodhpur dismissing the appeal
filed in terms of Section 378 (1) and (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure,
1973 (in short the `Code'). The learned Special Judge (Prevention of Corruption
Act) had directed acquittal of the respondent who faced trial for alleged
commission of offences punishable under Sections 7, 13(1)(d) read with Section
13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (in short the `Act'). The trial
Court found that the accusations have not been established. The same was
challenged in appeal before the High Court which dismissed the same.
Stand of the State was that the presumption under Section 20 of the Act has not
been kept in view. It is pointed out that money was recovered from the almirah
of the respondent. It is to be noted that the trial Court acquitted the
respondent only on the ground that the prosecution version was not credible.
counsel for the respondent supported the judgment impugned in the appeal.
were two complainants; one of them was not examined and the other did not
support the prosecution version. The independent witness also did not support
the prosecution. PW-11 the then Superintendent of Police stated in his
statement that on 22.11.1996 the complainant Ram Pal submitted a complaint
Ex.P-21 before him and about this report Motbirs were informed. Then the
complainant admitted the report to be correct before Motbir witnesses.
Strangely none of the Motbir witnesses corroborated this statement of this
witness. A witness stated that this is correct to say that he did not hear any
conversation between the complainant and the accused and he also did not see any
transaction. Narpat Singh (PW- 6), Chunni Lal (PW-7) and Lal Singh (PW-9) did
not speak in Court that the Motbir witnesses searched the sitting room of the
accused and in course of search by them currency notes smeared with powder were
recovered from the almirah. In cross examination by learned public prosecutor,
Motbir witness stated that currency notes smeared with powder were recovered
from the almirah. But he had not stated that the sitting room was searched by
him or other Motbir witness. No evidence was there to show how the currency
notes smeared with powder reached in the almirah. The evidence was to the
effect that the amount was demanded by the accused which was paid but instead
of accepting it directly the accused asked the person concerned to put the
currency notes in the almirah. It is the accepted case of the prosecution that
the money was recovered from the open almirah.
view of rival submissions of the parties, we think it proper to consider and
clarify the legal position first. Chapter XXIX (Sections 372- 394) of the Code
of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter referred to as "the present
Code") deals with appeals. Section 372 expressly declares that no appeal
shall lie from any judgment or order of a criminal court except as provided by
the Code or by any other law for the time being in force.
Section 373 provides
for filing of appeals in certain cases. Section 374 allows appeals from
convictions. Section 375 bars appeals in cases where the accused pleads guilty.
Likewise, no appeal is maintainable in petty cases (Section 376). Section 377
permits appeals by the State for enhancement of sentence. Section 378 confers
power on the State to present an appeal to the High Court from an order of
acquittal. The said section is material and may be quoted in extenso:
"378. Appeal in
case of acquittal.--(1) Save as otherwise provided in sub-section (2) and
subject to the provisions of sub-sections (3) and (5), the State Government
may, in any case, direct the Public Prosecutor to present an appeal to the High
Court from an original or appellate order of acquittal passed by any court
other than a High Court, or an order of acquittal passed by the Court of
Session in revision.
(2) If such an order
of acquittal is passed in any case in which the offence has been investigated
by the Delhi Special Police Establishment constituted under the Delhi Special
Police Establishment Act, 1946 (25 of 1946), or by any other agency empowered
to make investigation into an offence under any Central Act other than this
Code, the Central Government may also direct the Public Prosecutor to present
an appeal, subject to the provisions of sub-section (3), to the High Court from
the order of acquittal.
(3) No appeal under
sub-section (1) or sub-section (2) shall be entertained except with the leave
of the High Court.
(4) If such an order
of acquittal is passed in any case instituted upon complaint and the High
Court, on an application made to it by the complainant in this behalf, grants
special leave to appeal from the order of acquittal, the complainant may
present such an appeal to the High Court.
(5) No application
under sub-section (4) for the grant of special leave to appeal from an order of
acquittal shall be entertained by the High Court after the expiry of six
months, where the complainant is a public servant, and sixty days in every
other case, computed from the date of that order of acquittal.
(6) If, in any case,
the application under sub-section (4) for the grant of special leave to appeal
from an order of acquittal is refused, no appeal from that order of acquittal
shall lie under sub-section (1) or under sub-section (2).
Sections 379-380 cover special cases of appeals, other sections lay down
procedure to be followed by appellate courts.
may be stated that more or less similar provisions were found in the Code of
Criminal Procedure, 1898 (hereinafter referred to as "the old Code")
which came up for consideration before various High Courts, Judicial Committee
of the Privy Council as also before this Court. Since in the present appeal, we
have been called upon to decide the ambit and scope of the power of an
appellate court in an appeal against an order of acquittal, we have confined
ourselves to one aspect only i.e. an appeal against an order of acquittal.
reading of Section 378 of the present Code (appeal in case of acquittal) quoted
above, makes it clear that no restrictions have been imposed by the legislature
on the powers of the appellate court in dealing with appeals against acquittal.
When such an appeal is filed, the High Court has full power to re-appreciate,
review and reconsider the evidence at large, the material on which the order of
acquittal is founded and to reach its own conclusions on such evidence. Both questions
of fact and of law are open to determination by the High Court in an appeal
against an order of acquittal.
cannot, however, be forgotten that in case of acquittal, there is a 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 should be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved to be guilty
by a competent court of law. Secondly, the accused having secured an acquittal,
the presumption of his innocence is certainly not weakened but reinforced,
reaffirmed and strengthened by the trial court.
the above principles are well established, a different note was struck in
several decisions by various High Courts and even by this Court. It is,
therefore, appropriate if we consider some of the leading decisions on the
first important decision was rendered by the Judicial Committee of the Privy
Council in Sheo Swarup v. R. Emperor (1934) 61 IA 398). In Sheo Swarup the
accused were acquitted by the trial court and the local Government directed the
Public Prosecutor to present an appeal to the High Court from an order of
acquittal under Section 417 of the old Code (similar to Section 378 of the
present Code). At the time of hearing of appeal before the High Court, it was
contended on behalf of the accused that in an appeal from an order of
acquittal, it was not open to the appellate court to interfere with the
findings of fact recorded by the trial Judge unless such findings could not
have been reached by him had there not been some perversity or incompetence on
his part. The High Court, however, declined to accept the said view. It held
that no condition was imposed on the High Court in such appeal. It accordingly
reviewed all the evidence in the case and having formed an opinion of its
weight and reliability different from that of the trial Judge, recorded an
order of conviction. A petition was presented to His Majesty in Council for
leave to appeal on the ground that conflicting views had been expressed by the
High Courts in different parts of India upon the question whether in an appeal
from an order of acquittal, an appellate court had the power to interfere with
the findings of fact recorded by the trial Judge. Their Lordships thought it
fit to clarify the legal position and accordingly upon the "humble advice
of their Lordships", leave was granted by His Majesty. The case was,
thereafter, argued. The Committee considered the scheme and interpreting
Section 417 of the Code (old Code) observed that there was no indication in the
Code of any limitation or restriction on the High Court in exercise of powers
as an Appellate Tribunal. The Code also made no distinction as regards powers
of the High Court in dealing with an appeal against acquittal and an appeal
against conviction. Though several authorities were cited revealing different
views by the High Courts dealing with an appeal from an order of acquittal, the
Committee did not think it proper to discuss all the cases.
Russel summed up the legal position thus:
"There is, in
their opinion, no foundation for the view, apparently supported by the
judgments of some courts in India, that the High Court has no power or
jurisdiction to reverse an order of acquittal on a matter of fact, except in
cases in which the lower court has `obstinately blundered', or has `through
incompetence, stupidity or perversity' reached such `distorted conclusions as
to produce a positive miscarriage of justice', or has in some other way so
conducted or misconducted itself as to produce a glaring 8 miscarriage of
justice, or has been tricked by the defence so as to produce a similar
Lordship, then proceeded to observe: (IA p.404) "Sections 417, 418 and 423
of the Code give to the High Court full power to review at large the evidence
upon which the order of acquittal was founded, and to reach the conclusion that
upon that evidence the order of acquittal should be reversed. No limitation
should be placed upon that power, unless it be found expressly stated in the
Committee, however, cautioned appellate courts and stated: (IA p.404) "But
in exercising the power conferred by the Code and before reaching its
conclusions upon fact, the High Court should and will always give proper weight
and consideration to such matters as (1) the views of the trial Judge as to the
credibility of the witnesses; (2) the presumption of innocence in favour of the
accused, a presumption certainly not weakened by the fact that he has been
acquitted at his trial; (3) the right of the accused to the benefit of any
doubt; and (4) the slowness of an appellate court in disturbing a finding of fact
arrived at by a judge who had the advantage of seeing the witnesses. To state
this, however, is only to say that the High Court in its conduct of the appeal
should and will act in accordance with rules and principles well known and
recognised in the administration of justice."
Nur Mohd. v. Emperor (AIR 1945 PC 151), the Committee reiterated the above view
in Sheo Swarup (Supra) and held that in an appeal against acquittal, the High
Court has full powers to review and to reverse acquittal.
far as this Court is concerned, probably the first decision on the point was
Prandas v. State (AIR 1954 SC 36) (though the case was decided on 14-3-1950, it
was reported only in 1954). In that case, the accused was acquitted by the
trial court. The Provincial Government preferred an appeal which was allowed
and the accused was convicted for offences punishable under Sections 302 and
323 IPC. The High Court, for convicting the accused, placed reliance on certain
the decision of the High Court and following the proposition of law in Sheo
Swarup (supra), a six-Judge Bench held as follows:
"6. It must be
observed at the very outset that we cannot support the view which has been
expressed in several cases that the High Court has no power under Section 417,
Criminal Procedure Code, to reverse a judgment of acquittal, unless the
judgment is perverse or the subordinate court has in some way or other
misdirected itself so as to produce a miscarriage of justice."
Surajpal Singh v. State (1952 SCR 193), a two-Judge Bench observed that it was
well established that in an appeal under Section 417 of the (old) Code, the
High Court had full power to review the evidence upon which the order of
acquittal was founded. But it was equally well settled that the presumption of
innocence of the accused was further reinforced by his acquittal by the trial
court, and the findings of the trial court which had the advantage of seeing
the witnesses and hearing their evidence could be reversed only for very
substantial and compelling reasons.
Ajmer Singh v. State of Punjab (1953 SCR 418) the accused was acquitted by the
trial court but was convicted by the High Court in an appeal against acquittal
filed by the State. The aggrieved accused approached this Court. It was
contended by him that there were "no compelling reasons" for setting
aside the order of acquittal and due and proper weight had not been given by
the High Court to the opinion of the trial court as regards the credibility of
witnesses seen and examined. It was also commented that the High Court
committed an error of law in observing that "when a strong `prima facie'
case is made out against an accused person it is his duty to explain the
circumstances appearing in evidence against him and he cannot take shelter
behind the presumption of innocence and cannot state that the law entitles him
to keep his lips sealed".
the contention, this Court said:
"We think this
criticism is well founded. After an order of acquittal has been made the
presumption of innocence is further reinforced by that order, and that being
so, the trial court's decision can be reversed not on the ground that the
accused had failed to explain the circumstances appearing against him but only
for very substantial and compelling reasons."
Atley v. State of U.P. (AIR 1955 SC 807) this Court said:
"In our opinion,
it is not correct to say that unless the appellate court in an appeal under
Section 417, Criminal Procedure Code came to the conclusion that the judgment
of acquittal under appeal was perverse it could not set aside that order.
It has been laid down
by this Court that it is open to the High Court on an appeal against an order
of acquittal to review the entire evidence and to come to its own conclusion,
of course, keeping in view the well-established rule that the presumption of
innocence of the accused is not weakened but strengthened by the judgment of
acquittal passed by the trial court which had the advantage of observing the
demeanour of witnesses whose evidence have been recorded in its presence.
It is also well
settled that the court of appeal has as wide powers of appreciation of evidence
in an appeal against an order of acquittal as in the case of an appeal against
an order of conviction, subject to the riders that the presumption of innocence
with which the accused person starts in the trial court continues even up to
the appellate stage and that the appellate court should attach due weight to
the opinion of the trial court which recorded the order of acquittal.
If the appellate
court reviews the evidence, keeping those principles in mind, and comes to a
contrary conclusion, the judgment cannot be said to have been vitiated."
Aher Raja Khima v. State of Saurashtra (1955) 2 SCR 1285) the accused was
prosecuted under Sections 302 and 447 IPC. He was acquitted by the trial court
but convicted by the High Court. Dealing with the power of the High Court
against an order of acquittal, Bose, J. speaking for the majority (2:1) stated:
(AIR p. 220, para 1) "It is, in our opinion, well settled that it is not
enough for the High Court to take a different view of the evidence; there must
also be substantial and compelling reasons for holding that the trial court was
Sanwat Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1961) 3 SCR 120, a three- Judge Bench
considered almost all leading decisions on the point and observed that there
was no difficulty in applying the principles laid down by the Privy Council and
accepted by the Supreme Court. The Court, however, noted that appellate courts
found considerable difficulty in understanding the scope of the words
"substantial and compelling reasons" used in certain decisions. It
was observed inter-alia as follows:
obviously did not and could not add a condition to Section 417 of the Criminal
Procedure Code. The words were intended to convey the idea that an appellate
court not only shall bear in mind the principles laid down by the Privy Council
but also must give its clear reasons for coming to the conclusion that the
order of acquittal was wrong."
The Court concluded
foregoing discussion yields the following results:
(1) an appellate
court has full power to review the evidence upon which the order of acquittal
is founded; (2) the principles laid down in Sheo Swarup case afford a correct
guide for the appellate court's approach to a case in disposing of such an
appeal; and (3) the different phraseology used in the judgments of this Court,
such as, (i) `substantial and compelling reasons', (ii) `good and sufficiently
cogent reasons', and (iii) `strong reasons' are not intended to curtail the undoubted
power of an appellate court in an appeal against acquittal to review the entire
evidence and to come to its own conclusion; but in doing so 14 it should not
only consider every matter on record having a bearing on the questions of fact
and the reasons given by the court below in support of its order of acquittal
in its arriving at a conclusion on those facts, but should also express those
reasons in its judgment, which lead it to hold that the acquittal was not
in M.G. Agarwal v. State of Maharashtra (1963) 2 SCR 405, the point was raised
before a Constitution Bench of this Court. Taking note of earlier decisions, it
was observed as follows:
"17. In some of
the earlier decisions of this Court, however, in emphasising the importance of
adopting a cautious approach in dealing with appeals against acquittals, it was
observed that the presumption of innocence is reinforced by the order of
acquittal and so, `the findings of the trial court which had the advantage of
seeing the witnesses and hearing their evidence can be reversed only for very
substantial and compelling reasons': vide Surajpal Singh v.
State (1952 SCR 193).
Similarly in Ajmer Singh v. State of Punjab (1953 SCR 418), it was observed
that the interference of the High Court in an appeal against the order of
acquittal would be justified only if there are `very substantial and compelling
reasons to do so'. In some other decisions, it has been stated that an order of
acquittal can be reversed only for `good and sufficiently cogent reasons' or
for `strong reasons'. In appreciating the effect of these observations, it must
be remembered that these observations were not intended to lay down a rigid or
inflexible rule which should govern the decision of the High Court in appeals against
acquittals. They were not intended, and should not be read to have intended to
introduce an additional condition in clause (a) of Section 423(1) of the Code.
All that the said observations are intended to emphasize is that the approach
of the High Court in dealing with an appeal against acquittal ought to be
cautious 15 because as Lord Russell observed in Sheo Swarup the presumption of
innocence in favour of the accused `is not certainly weakened by the fact that
he has been acquitted at his trial'. Therefore, the test suggested by the
expression `substantial and compelling reasons' should not be construed as a
formula which has to be rigidly applied in every case. That is the effect of
the recent decisions of this Court, for instance, in Sanwat Singh v. State of
Rajasthan and Harbans Singh v. State of Punjab (1962 Supp 1 SCR 104) and so, it
is not necessary that before reversing a judgment of acquittal, the High Court
must necessarily characterise the findings recorded therein as perverse."
in another leading decision in Shivaji Sahabrao Bobade v. State of Maharashtra
(1973 (2) SCC 793) this Court held that in India, there is no jurisdictional
limitation on the powers of appellate court. "In law there are no fetters
on the plenary power of the appellate court to review the whole evidence on
which the order of acquittal is founded and, indeed, it has a duty to
scrutinise the probative material de novo, informed, however, by the weighty
thought that the rebuttable innocence attributed to the accused having been
converted into an acquittal the homage our jurisprudence owes to individual
liberty constrains the higher court not to upset the holding without very
convincing reasons and comprehensive consideration."
emphasis on balance between importance of individual liberty and evil of
acquitting guilty persons, this Court observed as follows:
"6. Even at this
stage we may remind ourselves of a necessary social perspective in criminal
cases which suffers from insufficient forensic appreciation. The dangers of
exaggerated devotion to the rule of benefit of doubt at the expense of social
defence and to the soothing sentiment that all acquittals are always good
regardless of justice to the victim and the community, demand especial emphasis
in the contemporary context of escalating crime and escape. The judicial
instrument has a public accountability. The cherished principles or golden
thread of proof beyond reasonable doubt which runs thro' the web of our law
should not be stretched morbidly to embrace every hunch, hesitancy and degree
of doubt. The excessive solicitude reflected in the attitude that a thousand
guilty men may go but one innocent martyr shall not suffer is a false dilemma.
Only reasonable doubts
belong to the accused. Otherwise any practical system of justice will then
breakdown and lose credibility with the community. The evil of acquitting a
guilty person light-heartedly, as a learned author (Glanville Williams in Proof
of Guilt) has saliently observed, goes much beyond the simple fact that just
one guilty person has gone unpunished. 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 who are found guilty. Thus, too frequent
acquittals of the guilty may lead to a ferocious penal law, eventually eroding
the judicial protection of the guiltless. For all these reasons it is true to
say, with Viscount Simon, that `a miscarriage of justice may arise from the
acquittal of the guilty no less than from the conviction of the innocent....'
In short, our jurisprudential enthusiasm for presumed innocence must be
moderated by the pragmatic need to make criminal justice potent and 17
realistic. A balance has to be struck between chasing chance possibilities as
good enough to set the delinquent free and chopping the logic of preponderant
probability to punish marginal innocents."
K. Gopal Reddy v. State of A.P (1979) 1 SCC 355, the Court was considering the
power of the High Court against an order of acquittal under Section 378 of the
present Code. After considering the relevant decisions on the point it was stated
principles are now well settled. At one time it was thought that an order of
acquittal could be set aside for `substantial and compelling reasons' only and
courts used to launch on a search to discover those `substantial and compelling
reasons'. However, the `formulae' of `substantial and compelling reasons',
`good and sufficiently cogent reasons' and `strong reasons' and the search for
them were abandoned as a result of the pronouncement of this Court in Sanwat
Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1961) 3 SCR 120. In Sanwat Singh case this Court
harked back to the principles enunciated by the Privy Council in Sheo Swarup v.
R. Emperor and reaffirmed those principles. After Sanwat Singh v. State of
Rajasthan this Court has consistently recognised the right of the appellate
court to review the entire evidence and to come to its own conclusion bearing
in mind the considerations mentioned by the Privy Council in Sheo Swarup case.
Occasionally phrases like `manifestly illegal', `grossly unjust', have been
used to describe the orders of acquittal which warrant interference. But, such
expressions have been used more as flourishes of language, to emphasise the
reluctance of the appellate court to 18 interfere with an order of acquittal
than to curtail the power of the appellate court to review the entire evidence
and to come to its own conclusion. In some cases (Ramaphupala Reddy v. State of
A.P., (AIR 1971 SC 460) Bhim Singh Rup Singh v. State of Maharashtra (AIR 1974
SC 286), it has been said that to the principles laid down in Sanwat Singh case
may be added the further principle that `if two reasonable conclusions can be
reached on the basis of the evidence on record, the appellate court should not
disturb the finding of the trial court'. This, of course, is not a new
principle. It stems out of the fundamental principle of our criminal
jurisprudence that the accused is entitled to the benefit of any reasonable
doubt. If two reasonably probable and evenly balanced views of the evidence are
possible, one must necessarily concede the existence of a reasonable doubt.
But, fanciful and remote possibilities must be left out of account. To entitle
an accused person to the benefit of a doubt arising from the possibility of a
duality of views, the possible view in favour of the accused must be as nearly
reasonably probable as that against him. If the preponderance of probability is
all one way, a bare possibility of another view will not entitle the accused to
claim the benefit of any doubt. It is, therefore, essential that any view of
the evidence in favour of the accused must be reasonable even as any doubt, the
benefit of which an accused person may claim, must be reasonable."
Ramesh Babulal Doshi v. State of Gujarat (1996) 9 SCC 225, this Court said:
in judgment over an acquittal the appellate court is first required to seek an
answer to the question whether the findings of the trial court are palpably
wrong, manifestly erroneous or demonstrably unsustainable. If the appellate
court answers the above question in the negative 19 the order of acquittal is
not to be disturbed. Conversely, if the appellate court holds, for reasons to
be recorded, that the order of acquittal cannot at all be sustained in view of
any of the above infirmities it can then-and then only- reappraise the evidence
to arrive at its own conclusions."
Allarakha K. Mansuri v. State of Gujarat (2002) 3 SCC 57, referring to earlier
decisions, the Court stated:
paramount consideration of the court should be to avoid miscarriage of justice.
A miscarriage of justice which may arise from the acquittal of guilty is no
less than from the conviction of an innocent. In a case where the trial court
has taken a view based upon conjectures and hypothesis and not on the legal
evidence, a duty is cast upon the High Court to reappreciate the evidence in
acquittal appeal for the purposes of ascertaining as to whether the accused has
committed any offence or not. Probable view taken by the trial court which may
not be disturbed in the appeal is such a view which is based upon legal and
Only because the
accused has been acquitted by the trial court, cannot be made a basis to urge
that the High Court under all circumstances should not disturb such a
Bhagwan Singh v. State of M.P. (2002) 4 SCC 85, the trial court acquitted the
accused but the High Court convicted them. Negativing the contention of the
appellants that the High Court could not have disturbed the findings of fact of
the trial court even if that view was not correct, this Court observed:
20 "7. We do
not agree with the submissions of the learned counsel for the appellants that
under Section 378 of the Code of Criminal Procedure the High Court could not
disturb the finding of facts of the trial court even if it found that the view
taken by the trial court was not proper. On the basis of the pronouncements of
this Court, the settled position of law regarding the powers of the High Court
in an appeal against an order of acquittal is that the Court has full powers to
review the evidence upon which an order of acquittal is based and generally it
will not interfere with the order of acquittal because by passing an order of
acquittal the presumption of innocence in favour of the accused is reinforced.
The golden thread which runs through the web of administration of justice in
criminal case is that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the
case, one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence,
the view which is favourable to the accused should be adopted. Such is not a
jurisdiction limitation on the appellate court but judge-made guidelines for
circumspection. The paramount consideration of the court is to ensure that miscarriage
of justice is avoided. A miscarriage of justice which may arise from the
acquittal of the guilty is no less than from the conviction of an innocent.
In a case where the
trial court has taken a view ignoring the admissible evidence, a duty is cast
upon the High Court to reappreciate the evidence in acquittal appeal for the
purposes of ascertaining as to whether all or any of the accused has committed
any offence or not".
Harijana Thirupala v. Public Prosecutor, High Court of A.P. (2002) 6 SCC 470,
this Court said:
the High Court in appeal either against an order of acquittal or conviction as
a court of first appeal 21 has full power to review the evidence to reach its
own independent conclusion. However, it will not interfere with an order of
acquittal lightly or merely because one other view is possible, because with
the passing of an order of acquittal presumption of innocence in favour of the
accused gets reinforced and strengthened. The High Court would not be justified
to interfere with order of acquittal merely because it feels that sitting as a
trial court it would have proceeded to record a conviction; a duty is cast on
the High Court while reversing an order of acquittal to examine and discuss the
reasons given by the trial court to acquit the accused and then to dispel those
reasons. If the High Court fails to make such an exercise the judgment will
suffer from serious infirmity."
Ramanand Yadav v. Prabhu Nath Jha (2003) 12 SCC 606, this Court observed:
"21. There is no
embargo on the appellate court reviewing the evidence upon which an order of
acquittal is based.
Generally, the order
of acquittal shall not be interfered with because the presumption of innocence
of the accused is further strengthened by acquittal. The golden thread which
runs through the web of administration of justice in criminal cases is that if
two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case, one pointing to the
guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence, the view which is
favourable to the accused should be adopted. The paramount consideration of the
court is to ensure that miscarriage of justice is prevented. A miscarriage of
justice which may arise from acquittal of the guilty is no less than from the
conviction of an innocent. In a case where admissible evidence is ignored, a
duty is cast upon the appellate court to reappreciate the evidence in a case
where the accused has been acquitted, for the purpose of ascertaining as to
whether any of the accused committed any offence or not".
in Kallu v. State of M.P. (2006) 10 SCC 313, this Court stated:
deciding an appeal against acquittal, the power of the appellate court is no
less than the power exercised while hearing appeals against conviction. In both
types of appeals, the power exists to review the entire evidence. However, one
significant difference is that an order of acquittal will not be interfered
with, by an appellate court, where the judgment of the trial court is based on
evidence and the view taken is reasonable and plausible. It will not reverse
the decision of the trial court merely because a different view is possible.
The appellate court will also bear in mind that there is a presumption of
innocence in favour of the accused and the accused is entitled to get the
benefit of any doubt. Further if it decides to interfere, it should assign
reasons for differing with the decision of the trial court."
the above decisions, in Chandrappa and Ors. v. State of Karnataka (2007 (4) SCC
415), the following general principles regarding powers of the appellate court
while dealing with an appeal against an order of acquittal were culled out:
(1) An appellate
court has full power to review, reappreciate and reconsider the evidence upon
which the order of acquittal is founded.
(2) The Code of
Criminal Procedure, 1973 puts no limitation, restriction or condition on
exercise of such power and an appellate court on the evidence before it may
reach its own conclusion, both on questions of fact and of law.
expressions, such as, "substantial and compelling reasons",
"good and sufficient grounds", "very strong circumstances",
"distorted conclusions", "glaring mistakes", etc. are not
intended to curtail extensive powers of an appellate court in an appeal against
acquittal. Such phraseologies are more in the nature of "flourishes of
language" to emphasise the reluctance of an appellate court to interfere
with acquittal than to curtail the power of the court to review the evidence
and to come to its own conclusion.
(4) An appellate
court, however, must bear in mind that in case of acquittal, there is double
presumption in favour of the accused.
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.
(5) If two reasonable
conclusions are possible on the basis of the evidence on record, the appellate
court should not disturb the finding of acquittal recorded by the trial court.
person has, no doubt, a profound right not to be convicted of an offence which
is not established by the evidential standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
Though this standard is a higher standard, there is, however, no absolute
standard. What degree of probability amounts to "proof" is an
exercise particular to each case. Referring to the interdependence of evidence
and the confirmation of one piece of evidence by another, a learned author says
[see "The Mathematics of Proof II":
Criminal Law Review, 1979, by Sweet and Maxwell, p.340 (342)]:
"The simple multiplication
rule does not apply if the separate pieces of evidence are dependent. Two
events are dependent when they tend to occur together, and the evidence of such
events may also be said to be dependent.
In a criminal case,
different pieces of evidence directed to establishing that the defendant did
the prohibited act with the specified state of mind are generally dependent. A
junior may feel doubt whether to credit an alleged confession, and doubt
whether to infer guilt from the fact that the defendant fled from justice. But
since it is generally guilty rather than innocent people who make confessions,
and guilty rather than innocent people who run away, the two doubts are not 25
to be multiplied together. The one piece of evidence may confirm the other."
would be called reasonable if they are free from a zest for abstract
speculation. Law cannot afford any favourite other than truth. To constitute
reasonable doubt, it must be free from an overemotional response.
Doubts must be actual
and substantial doubts as to the guilt of the accused persons arising from the
evidence, or from the lack of it, as opposed to mere vague apprehensions. A
reasonable doubt is not an imaginary, trivial or a merely possible doubt, but a
fair doubt based upon reason and common sense. It must grow out of the evidence
in the case.
concepts of probability, and the degrees of it, cannot obviously be expressed
in terms of units to be mathematically enumerated as to how many of such units
constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt. There is an unmistakable subjective
element in the evaluation of the degrees of probability and the quantum of
proof. Forensic probability must, in the last analysis, rest on a robust common
sense and, ultimately, on the trained intuitions of the Judge. While the
protection given by the criminal process to the accused persons is not to be
eroded, at the same time, uninformed legitimization of trivialities would make
a mockery of administration of criminal justice. This position was
illuminatingly stated by Venkatachaliah, J. (as His Lordship then was) in State
of U.P. v. Krishna Gopal (1988 (4) SCC 302).
above position was highlighted in Krishnan and Anr. v. State represented by
Inspector of Police (2003 (7) SCC 56).
the aforesaid view of the matter no interference is called for in this appeal
which is dismissed accordingly as the views expressed by the trial court and
the High Court are reasonable and possible views and there is no perversity
........................................J. (Dr. ARIJIT PASAYAT)
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