Split decision over culpability of a woman under Section 201 IPC for being silent about the murder of her husband by her lover

Supreme Court: In a 2-decade old matter relating to culpability of the accused under Section 201 IPC pertaining to disappearance of evidence in the case of the murder of her husband, the bench of N. V. Ramana and P.C. Pant, JJ gave a split decision and placed the matter before the Chief Justice of India for referring it to a larger bench.

As per the facts of the case, the appellant had allegedly, owing to her extra-marital affair with the second appellant (main accused), hatched a plan to eliminate her husband and as an outcome the main accused killed the deceased in his own home. The trial court convicted the main accused under Sections 302 and 201 IPC, however, the appellant was convicted only under Section 201 IPC.  It was contended by the appellant that as the time of the commission of the offence, she was sleeping with her children and fearing that if she raises any alarm, her children may also be assaulted by the intruder, she remained silent. She further claimed that she had not eloped with the main accused but was kept hostage by him at various places under different names. She said that she remained silent as she feared that police and family members would not believe her due to her illicit relationship with the main accused.

N.V. Ramana, J, acquitting the appellant, held that the entire case of the prosecution rests upon circumstantial evidence except for the direct evidence of the daughter of the deceased and the appellant who said that the appellant was crying and begging the main accused not to kill her husband and that for a circumstantial evidence to result into conviction of an accused, it should be strong, convincing and unassailable. Stating that criminal trial can never be a fanciful flight of imagination, he said that while considering the charge under Section 201 of I.P.C, it is mandatory for the prosecution to prove that the accused actively participated in the matter of disappearance of evidence and with an intention to screen the offender. He, hence, held that remaining silent and absconding with the main accused and moving from one place to another place will not supply the evidence or fill the gap which is necessary to prove the ingredients under Section 201 of I.P.C.

P.C. Pant, J, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the fact the appellant’s brother and sister-in-law saw the main accused running away without a shirt from the house of accused and that the appellant did not return to the house when she was asked by her brother to pick up her elder daughter, cannot be ignored as these facts have been corroborated by other witnesses. She had also made false statements to her brother about the whereabouts of the deceased He also pointed out the fact that the elder daughter, had, in her statement mentioned that when she saw the main accused, along with another man, beat up her father, her mother took her and her sister to another room and that she did enter the room in which the fateful incident took place. Considering the aforementioned facts, he held that the appellant was guilty under Section 201 IPC. [Padmini Mahendrabhai Gadda v. State of Gujarat, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 749, decided on 17.07.2017]

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