Age of the case can’t displace the necessity of taking material evidence on record

Supreme Court: A bench of Abhay Manohar Sapre and Dinesh Maheshwari, JJ has held that

“the age of a case, by itself, cannot be decisive of the matter when a prayer is made for examination of a material witness.”

Factual Background

  • A woman died in Nigeria under unnatural circumstances and her mother moved an application under Section 311 CrPC seeking summoning of the Doctor who had conducted first postmortem of the dead-body of her daughter in Nigeria.
  • The dead-body of the daughter of appellant was brought to India and Medical Board was constituted for conducting the post-mortem but then, the Board found that no definite opinion could be given regarding the time and cause of death.
  • The investigating agency, for the reasons best known to it, did not cite the said doctor, who conducted the first post-mortem in Nigeria as a witness
  • The Trial Court rejected the application so moved by the appellant, essentially for reasons that the trial was pending for almost 8 years; and that it was not necessary to record the Doctor’s statement.

Ruling

Noticing that the discretionary powers like those under Section 311 CrPC are essentially intended to ensure that every necessary and appropriate measure is taken by the Court to keep the record straight and to clear any ambiguity in so far as the evidence is concerned as also to ensure that no prejudice is caused to anyone, the Bench said,

“the testimony of the said doctor who conducted the first post-mortem in Nigeria is germane to the questions involved in this matter; and for a just decision of the case with adequate opportunity to both the parties to put forward their case, the application under Section 311 CrPC ought to have been allowed.”

The Court said that the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case have either been ignored or have been cursorily dealt by the Trial Court with the observations that the effect of non-availability of the original post-mortem report would be considered at the time of the final disposal of the matter.

“In fact, the principal reason weighing with the Trial Court in declining the prayer for examination of the said witness had been that the case was pending since the year 2010. The High Court, on the other hand, chose not to exercise its powers under 8 Section 482 CrPC, with the only observation that the discretion so exercised by the Trial Court was not to be interfered with.”

The Court held that though it is expected that the trial of a sessions case should proceed with reasonable expedition and pendency of such a matter for about 8-9 years is not desirable but then, the length/duration of a case cannot displace the basic requirement of ensuring the just decision after taking all the necessary and material evidence on record.

[Manju Devi v. State of Rajasthan, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 552, decided on 16.04.2019]

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