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Report No. 202

2.11 Framing of charge - whether u/s 302 or 304 B:

2.11.1 In Shamnsaheb M. Multtani v. State of Karnataka, (2001) 2 SCC 577 the Hon'ble Supreme Court has observed:

"The question raised before us is whether in a case where prosecution failed to prove the charge under Section 302 IPC, but on the facts the ingredients of Section 304-B have winched to the fore, can the court convict him of that offence in the absence of the said offence being included in the charge.

14. Sections 221 and 222 of the Code are the two provisions dealing with the power of a criminal court to convict the accused of an offence which is not included in the charge. The primary condition for application of Section 221 of the Code is that the court should have felt doubt, at the time of framing the charge, as to which of the several acts (which may be proved) will constitute the offence on account of the nature of the acts or series of acts alleged against the accused. In such a case the Section permits to convict the accused of the offence which he is shown to have committed though he was not charged with it.

15. Section 222(1) of the Code deals with a case "when a person is charged with an offence consisting of several particulars". The Section permits the court to convict the accused "of the minor offence, though he was not charged with it". Sub-section (2) deals with a similar, but slightly different situation.

"222. (2) When a person is charged with an offence and facts are proved which reduce it to a minor offence, he may be convicted of the minor offence, although he is not charged with it."

16. What is meant by "a minor offence" for the purpose of Section 222 of the Code? Although the said expression is not defined in the Code it can be discerned from the context that the test of minor offence is not merely that the prescribed punishment is less than the major offence. The two illustrations provided in the Section would bring the above point home well. Only if the two offences are cognate offences, wherein the main ingredients are common, the one punishable among them with a lesser sentence can be regarded as minor offence vis-à-vis the other offence.

17. The composition of the offence under Section 304-B IPC is vastly different from the formation of the offence of murder under Section 302 IPC and hence the former cannot be regarded as minor offence vis-à-vis the latter. However, the position would be different when the charge also contains the offence under Section 498-A IPC (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty).

18. So when a person is charged with an offence under Sections 302 and 498-A IPC on the allegation that he caused the death of a bride after subjecting her to harassment with a demand for dowry, within a period of 7 years of marriage, a situation may arise, as in this case, that the offence of murder is not established as against the accused. Nonetheless, all other ingredients necessary for the offence under Section 304-B IPC would stand established. Can the accused be convicted in such a case for the offence under Section 304-B IPC without the said offence forming part of the charge?

19. A two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court (K. Jayachandra Reddy and G.N. Ray, JJ.) 1994 SCC (Cr.) 235 has held in Lakhjit Singh v. State of Punjab, 1994 supp. 1 SCC 173, that if a prosecution failed to establish the offence under Section 302 IPC, which alone was included in the charge, but if the offence under Section 306 IPC was made out in the evidence it is permissible for the court to convict the accused of the latter offence.

21. The crux of the matter is this: Would there be occasion for a failure of justice by adopting such a course as to convict an accused of the offence under Section 304-B IPC when all the ingredients necessary for the said offence have come out in evidence, although he was not charged with the said offence? In this context a reference to Section 464(1) of the Code is apposite:

"464. (1) No finding, sentence or order by a court of competent jurisdiction shall be deemed invalid merely on the ground that no charge was framed or on the ground of any error, omission or irregularity in the charge including any misjoinder of charges, unless, in the opinion of the court of appeal, confirmation or revision, a failure of justice has in fact been occasioned thereby". (emphasis supplied)

22. In other words, a conviction would be valid even if there is any omission or irregularity in the charge, provided it did not occasion a failure of justice.

23. We often hear about "failure of justice" and quite often the submission in a criminal court is accentuated with the said expression. Perhaps it is too pliable or facile an expression which could be fitted in any situation of a case. The expression "failure of justice" would appear, sometimes, as an etymological chameleon (the simile is borrowed from Lord Diplock in Town Investments Ltd. v. Deptt. of the Environment, (1977) 1 All E.R 813 : 1978 AC 359 : (1977) 2 WLR 450 (HL). The criminal court, particularly the superior court should make a close examination to ascertain whether there was really a failure of justice or whether it is only a camouflage.

25. We have now to examine whether, on the evidence now on record the appellant can be convicted under Section 304- B IPC without the same being included as a count in the charge framed. Section 304-B has been brought on the statute-book on 9-11-1986 as a package along with Section 113-B of the Evidence Act.

28. Under Section 4 of the Evidence Act "whenever it is directed by this Act that the court shall presume a fact, it shall regard such fact as proved, unless and until it is disproved". So the court has no option but to presume that the accused had caused dowry death unless the accused disproves it. It is a statutory compulsion on the court. However it is open to the accused to adduce such evidence for disproving the said compulsory presumption, as the burden is unmistakably on him to do so. He can discharge such burden either by eliciting answers through crossexamination of the witnesses of the prosecution or by adducing evidence on the defence side or by both.

29. At this stage, we may note the difference in the legal position between the said offence and Section 306 IPC which was merely an offence of abetment of suicide earlier. The Section remained in the statute-book without any practical use till 1983. But by the introduction of Section 113-A in the Evidence Act the said offence under Section 306 IPC has acquired wider dimensions and has become a serious marriage-related offence.

Section 113-A of the Evidence Act says that under certain conditions, almost similar to the conditions for dowry death the court may presume having regard to the circumstances of the case, that such suicide has been abetted by her husband etc. When the law says that the court may presume the fact, it is discretionary on the part of the court either to regard such fact as proved or not to do so, which depends upon all the other circumstances of the case. As there is no compulsion on the court to act on the presumption the accused can persuade the court against drawing a presumption adverse to him.

30. But the peculiar situation in respect of an offence under Section 304-B IPC, as discernible from the distinction pointed out above in respect of the offence under Section 306 IPC is this: Under the former the court has a statutory compulsion, merely on the establishment of two factual positions enumerated above, to presume that the accused has committed dowry death. If any accused wants to escape from the said catch the burden is on him to disprove it. If he fails to rebut the presumption the court is bound to act on it.

31. Now take the case of an accused who was called upon to defend only a charge under Section 302 IPC. The burden of proof never shifts onto him. It ever remains on the prosecution which has to prove the charge beyond all reasonable doubt. The said traditional legal concept remains unchanged even now. In such a case the accused can wait till the prosecution evidence is over and then to show that the prosecution has failed to make out the said offence against him.

No compulsory presumption would go to the assistance of the prosecution in such a situation. If that be so, when an accused has no notice of the offence under Section 304-B IPC, as he was defending a charge under Section 302 IPC alone, would it not lead to a grave miscarriage of justice when he is alternatively convicted under Section 304-B IPC and sentenced to the serious punishment prescribed there under, which mandates a minimum sentence of imprisonment for seven years.

32. The serious consequence which may ensue to the accused in such a situation can be limned through an illustration: If a bride was murdered within seven years of her marriage and there was evidence to show that either on the previous day or a couple of days earlier she was subjected to harassment by her husband with demand for dowry, such husband would be guilty of the offence on the language of Section 304-B IPC read with Section 113-B of the Evidence Act.

But if the murder of his wife was actually committed either by a dacoit or by a militant in a terrorist act the husband can lead evidence to show that he had no hand in her death at all. If he succeeds in discharging the burden of proof he is not liable to be convicted under Section 304-B IPC. But if the husband is charged only under Section 302 IPC he has no burden to prove that his wife was murdered like that as he can have his traditional defence that the prosecution has failed to prove the charge of murder against him and claim an order of acquittal.

33. The above illustration would amplify the gravity of the consequence befalling an accused if he was only asked to defend a charge under Section 302 IPC and was alternatively convicted under Section 304-B IPC without any notice to him, because he is deprived of the opportunity to disprove the burden cast on him by law.

34. In such a situation, if the trial court finds that the prosecution has failed to make out the case under Section 302 IPC, but the offence under Section 304-B IPC has been made out, the court has to call upon the accused to enter on his defence in respect of the said offence. Without affording such an opportunity to the accused, a conviction under Section 304-B IPC would lead to real and serious miscarriage of justice.

Even if no such count was included in the charge, when the court affords him an opportunity to discharge his burden by putting him to notice regarding the prima facie view of the court that he is liable to be convicted under Section 304-B IPC, unless he succeeds in disproving the presumption, it is possible for the court to enter upon a conviction of the said offence in the event of his failure to disprove the presumption.

35. As the appellant was convicted by the High Court under Section 304-B IPC, without such an opportunity being granted to him, we deem it necessary in the interest of justice to afford him that opportunity. The case in the trial court should proceed against the appellant (not against the other two accused whose acquittal remains unchallenged now) from the stage of defence evidence. He is put to notice that unless he disproves the presumption, he is liable to be convicted under Section 304-B IPC".

2.11.2 In Shanti v. State of Haryana, 1991(1) SCC 371, the Hon'ble Apex Court has held that Section 304B and 498A are not mutually exclusive. They deal with two distinct offences. A person charged and acquitted under Section 304B can be convicted under Section 498A without charge being framed, if such case is made. But from the point of view of practice and procedure and to avoid technical defects, it is advisable in such cases to frame charges under both the Sections. If the case is established against the accused he can be convicted under both the Sections but no separate sentence need be awarded under Section 498A in view of substantive sentence being awarded for major offence under Section 304B.

Proposal to amend Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code Back

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