Restrictive interpretation of “victim” and “legal heir” in the light of sections 2(wa) and 372 of CrPC, overruled

Delhi High Court:  In reference of a matter to Full Bench concerning locus standi of private parties to maintain appeals by virtue of the proviso to Section 372 CrPC. The Court overruled its previous view decided in Chattar Singh v. Subhash  2011 SCC OnLine Del 81 : (2011) 123 DRJ 257 (DB) wherein, it was held that the appellant being a Class II heir would not inherit any thing from his deceased son. Thus, would not fall within the expression ‘legal heir’ in the light of Section 2(wa) and hence he is not entitled to prefer an appeal  by virtue of  proviso attached to Section 372 of CrPC .

While adjudicating this matter two questions arose for the court’s consideration by virtue of the order of reference. Firstly, whether the term ‘victim’ which includes ‘legal heirs’ means persons entitled to the property of the victim under the law applicable of inheritance or would embrace any person who has suffered any loss or injury caused by crime/offence for which the accused person has been charged. And secondly, whether the appellate remedy given under proviso of Section 372 CrPC, is available with respect to only such offences which were committed as on the date when the appellate right was conferred by law or the appellate right would be available with respect to the date of the decision or the appellate remedy is without any reference of the two points i.e. the date when the offence was committed or when the offence was committed or when the appellate right was conferred by law.

The Court by making an extensive discussion on point involved in first question held that, the definition of ‘victim’ as provided in Section 2 (wa) of CrPC which includes ‘legal heirs’ cannot exclude those who actually fall within the definition of ‘victim’ by virtue of emotional harm suffered by them. The laws of inheritance, which decide one’s ‘legal heirs’, are not intended to be solely determinative of the entitlement to exercise the rights of the victim, in the criminal trial/appeal on his/her death. The Court hereby applying the Heydon’s mischief rule expanded the scope of the term by saying that it is impermissible for an appellate court to shut out an appeal by a legal heir based on his/her not being an immediate heir, or being lower down in hierarchy vis-à-vis entitlement to the crime victim’s estate. Replying to the second question the court reaffirmed the view, relying on numerous decisions decided by the Supreme Court, that right to appeal being a substantive right always acts prospectively thus, all cases in which orders were passed by any criminal court acquitting the accused or convincing him for a lesser offence or imposing inadequate compensation, passed on or after the date on which amendment was made, the victims in those cases would have the qualified right mentioned in the proviso of Section 372 CrPC. Ram Phal v. State; 2015 SCC OnLine Del 9802; decided on 28-05-2015

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