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Report No. 58

Present Position

3.7. The legal framework as to the right of appeal in criminal cases in India, appears to rest upon one broad principle, namely, the desirability of allowing one appeal as of right, both on facts and on law, in respect of a conviction for the first time in a case. Appeals from such judgments of courts other than the High Court are allowed in all cases (barring certain minor cases1 in which the sentence does not exceed a specified period of imprisonment or a specified amount of fine, or where a plea of guilty is accepted.) Appeals from judgments of the High Court, before which a conviction is ordered for the first time, are limited to serious offences,2 obviously to prevent the Supreme Court from being troubled with less important cases.

1. Section 413 and 414, Cr PC, 1898.

2. The exceptional provision in section 411A(4), Cr PC, 1898, is now almost obsolete.

3.8. Reading together Article 134(1)(a) and (b) and the recent Act1 of 1970, broadly speaking, an appeal against such conviction lies to the Supreme Court, if the High Court has reversed an acquittal or withdrawn a case and tried it itself, and passed a sentence of death,2 imprisonment for life or imprisonment for not less than 10 years.3

1. Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Act, 1970.

2. Article 134(1)(a) and (b).

3. Act of 1970.

3.9. In other cases, there is no unqualified right of appeal, and, as is evident from Article 134(1)(c) of the Constitution, an appeal lies only if the High Court certifies the case to be a fit one for appeal to the Supreme Court.

3.10. This can be illustrated with reference to Article 134(1)(a) and (b) of the Constitution. Thus, by virtue of Article 134(1)(a), where a person acquitted by the Court of Session is, on an appeal against acquittal, convicted by the Appellate Bench and sentenced to death, he has a right of appeal to the Supreme Court, because as Dr. Ambedkar observed, the initial presumption of innocence is, in this case, further strengthened by the fact that the trial Judge had found him innocent.1 If, in such cases, the Appellate Bench finds him guilty and sentences him to death, it is certainly a matter which requires further investigation.2

Similarly, Article 134(1)(b) provides a right of appeal to a person who, having been tried after withdrawal of the case by the High Court is convicted and sentenced to death; here the right of appeal is based on the principle that a person who has been convicted for the first time and condemned to death, ought to have at least one appeal.3

The Act of 1970 has extended this tight to cases where the High Court setting aside an acquittal passes a sentence of life imprisonment or imprisonment for ten years.4 As already stated, the appeal to the highest Court is, of course, limited to serious cases. Chief Justice Pratt observed long ago, that "it is the glory and happiness of our excellent Constitution that, to prevent any injustice, no man is to be convicted by the first judgement; but that, if he apprehends himself to be aggrieved, he had another court to which he can resort for relief".

In the present inquiry, we have no intention to consider any changes in Article 134(1)(a) and (b) of the Constitution. We are concerned with cases outside them and outside the Act of 1970 where redress is still sought from a superior tribunal.

1. See Dr. Ambedkar's Speech, Vol. 8, Constituent Assembly Debates, p. 853 (14th June, 1949).

2. Dr. Bakshi Tek Chand's Speech, Vol. 8, Constituent Assembly Debates, p. 851 (14th June, 1949).

3. See Dr. Ambedkar's Speech, Vol. 8, Constituent Assembly Debates, p. 853 (14th June, 1949).

4. The Supreme Court (Enlargement of Appellate Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1970.

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