Case BriefsForeign Courts

Court of Appeal of Sri Lanka: The Bench of M.M.A. Gaffoor and K.K. Wickremasinghe, JJ. dismissed the appeal of the accused-appellant who was indicted for committing the murder of a fifteen-year-old girl.

The facts of the case were that the deceased was a fifteen-year-old girl living together with the accused as husband and wife however she was not legally married to the accused. On the day of the incident accused came to the house of his mother with the deceased and after sometime went to accused’s house which was in the same compound. After a short while, the accused had come and told his mother and sister who were in the main house about the incident. The deceased was found hanging in the accused’s house. The testimony of the mother and sister against the accused which were well corroborated were taken into account. The postmortem report revealed that death was due to ligature strangulation. Thereafter for his defense, the accused opted to give a dock statement wherein he stated that a person whom he named was responsible for the death of the deceased. Accused further said the same person had told him to surrender to the Police. This position had never been suggested by any of the prosecution witnesses including the investigating Police Officers thus the dock statement made by the accused was considered as an afterthought and thus the Court rejected the same. The High Court convicted the accused. When this matter came up for argument the counsel for the accused took up several defects in the High Court Trial including that a mere non-confession utterance by the appellant had been converted to a confession statement by the State Counsel thereby denying the accused of a fair trial.

The Court after perusing the case record and the submissions made by both Counsel rejected the submissions made by Counsel for the accused with regard to the above defects highlighted as they had no merit. The Court resonated the opinion of Justice Thilakawardena, in AG v. Sandanam Pitchi Mary Theresa, S.C. Appeal No. 79 of 2008, wherein he stated that “Discrepancies that do not go to the root of the matter and assail the basic version of the witness cannot be given too much importance.” The appeal was thus dismissed. [Ambagahagedara Nimal Ratnayake v. Attorney General’s Department, 2019 SCC OnLine SL CA 3, decided on 01-04-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Tripura High Court: A Bench of Sanjay Karol, CJ and Arindam Lodh, J. allowed an appeal filed by the appellant-wife against the judgment passed by the Family Judge whereby she was directed to return to her matrimonial home.

The respondent-husband had filed a suit for restitution of conjugal rights under Section 281 of the Mohammedan Law. He stated that the parties got married according to Islamic rites and customs. It was alleged that after a few days, the wife started quarrelling with him and always preferred to live with her parents. It was alleged that she left the matrimonial home in 15-9-2017 without any reason and information and also took away her articles. Efforts were made to bring her back, but she did not return. Hence, he instituted the suit for restitution of conjugal rights. The family court passed the ex-parte impugned order whereby the wife was directed to return to the house of her husband.

R. Purakayastha, Advocate appeared for the wife. According to the memo of appeal, the wife was a very poor lady. After filing her written statement, she prayed for appointing a legal aid counsel. But unfortunately, she prayed for appointing a legal aid counsel. But unfortunately, the Family Judge neither allowed nor rejected her prayer. It was submitted that since she was a lady of little learning she could not take any step with the case.

The High Court observed it as well settled that “justice is not only to be done, but it is manifest to be done.” The wife being a poor woman sought for a legal aid counsel. According to the Court, the Family Judge ought to have afforded all opportunities to he so she could take part in the proceedings before the family court. The Court held it to be a fit case to remand the matter back to the family court for the fair trial of the case. Accordingly, the appeal. was allowed and the impugned judgment was set aside. [Salma Begam v. Saiful Ali, 2019 SCC OnLine Tri 77, decided on 05-03-2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

“In search of truth, he plays that sacred role of the sun, which eliminates the darkness of ignorance and illuminates the face of justice, encircled by devils of humanity and compassion.”

-Whittaker Chambers

Supreme Court: A Bench comprising of A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer, JJ. disposed of a writ petition while approving the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 finalised by the Union of India and making certain direction in connection therewith.

There were four petitioners in this matter all of whom were related to cases against self-styled godman Asaram and his son Narayan Sai. The petitioners Witness, father of a murdered witness, father of a child rape victim and a journalist who escaped a murder attempt by goons of Asaram and Narayana Sai and still faces death threats by a jailed sharpshooter. They prayed for a court-monitored SIT or a CBI probe. They stated that the prevailing feeling of fear amongst witnesses in the country seriously impairs the right of the people of this country to live in a free society governed by rule of law.

The Court noted the adversities faced by the witnesses and reproduced the reasons which make witness turn hostile as indicated by the Supreme Court in Ramesh v. State of Haryana, (2017) 1 SCC 529. It was noted that such a situation has created a problem of low conviction in India having serious repercussion on criminal justice itself. Therefore, the protection of witnesses is necessary to enable them to depose fearlessly and truthfully. This would also ensure ‘fair trial’, another concomitant of rule of law.

Earlier too, issues of identity protection and witness protection programme have been raised in various cases including NHRC v. State of Gujarat, (2009) 6 SCC 767; PUCL v. Union of India, (2004) 9 SCC 580; Zahira Habibullah Sheikh v. State of Gujarat, (2004) 4 SCC 158; Sakshi v. Union of India, (2004) 5 SCC 518; Zahira Habibullah Sheikh (5) v. State of Gujarat, (2006) 3 SCC 374.

During the pendency of the petition, the Union of India finalised the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018. Its essential features include identifying categories of threat perceptions, preparation of a “Threat Analysis Report” by the Head of Police, types of protection measures like ensuring that the witness and accused do not come face to face during the investigation, etc. The Scheme is the outcome of the efforts put in by the Central Government with due assistance not only from the State Governments as well as Union Territories but other stakeholders including Police personnel, NALSA, and State Legal Services Authorities, High Courts and even civil society.

The Supreme Court after considering various earlier decisions as well as Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 made certain directions which include:

(a) The Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 is approved and shall come into effect forthwith.

(b) Union of India, all States and UTs shall enforce the Scheme in letter and spirit.

(c)The Scheme shall be the ‘law’ under Article 141 and 142 of the Constitution till enactment of suitable legislation on the subject.

(d)Vulnerable Witness Deposition Complexes shall be set up in all district courts in India.

The petition was disposed of in the terms above. [Mahender Chawla v. Union of India,2018 SCC OnLine SC 2679,decided on 05-12-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A Bench comprising of Rohinton F. Nariman and Navin Sinha, JJ. allowed criminal appeal filed against the judgment of Gauhati High Court whereby trial court’s decision convicting the appellant under Section 302 IPC was upheld.

The appellant was accused of murdering her husband. She was convicted by the trial court which was affirmed by the High Court holding that the present was a case of circumstantial evidence. The last seen theory established the presence of the appellant with the deceased at night. She was assailant of the deceased. Aggrieved by the judgment of the High Court, the instant appeal was filed.

The Supreme Court observed that mere invocation of the last seen theory, sans the facts and evidence in a case, will not suffice to shift the onus upon the accused under Section 106 of the Evidence Act, 1872 unless the prosecution first establishes a prima facie case. It was noticed that the courts below did not notice defence of the appellant under Section 313 CrPC. It was observed that Section 313 cannot be seen simply as part of audi alteram partem. It confers a valuable right upon an accused to establish his innocence and can well be considered beyond a statutory right as a constitutional right to a fair trial under Article 21 of the Constitution, even if it is not to be considered as a piece of substantive evidence, not being on oath under Section 313 (2). If the accused takes a defence after the prosecution evidence is closed, under Section 313 (1)(b) the Court is duty bound under Section 313(4) to consider the same. It was held that unfortunately in the instant case, complete non-consideration of the appellant’s defence caused prejudice to her. In facts and circumstances, the Court held that the guilt of the appellant was proved beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, the appeal was allowed and the appellant was acquitted. [Reena Hazarika v. State of Assam,2018 SCC OnLine SC 2281, decided on 31-10-2018]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of Pakistan: A 3-Judge Bench comprising of Mushir Alam, Faisal Arab and Sajjad Ali Shah, JJ. while hearing a petition against order directing fresh consideration of case, held that fair trial does not envisage recourse to successive remedies one after another against same impugned order on substantially same set of facts seeking substantially similar relief.

Respondent-tenant faced ejectment proceedings filed by appellant-landlord for default in paying rent. A tentative order directing deposition of rent arrears was passed by the Rent Controller but respondent failed to comply with the same and was directed to vacate the premises. However instead of vacating the tenement, the respondent filed an application under Section 12 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 stating that he was paying rent in installments and hence believed that appellant has waived his right to seek eviction. Despite dismissal of this application by Executing Court, respondent filed another application under Section 47 CPC concealing that application under Section 12 CPC on substantially similar facts and grounds had been dismissed. The second application was also dismissed by the Executing Court. But the High Court, in appeal, set aside the dismissal order stating that ouster of respondent from availing his remedy before Executing Court was denial of fair trial. It is against this order, that the instant petition was filed.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court noted that facts and grounds in application under Sections 12 and 47 CPC were substantially same. It observed that the moment one intends to commence a legal action, he must choose to pursue one out of the host of remedies available to him under law. Once this election is made, he is prohibited from instituting another proceeding. This Doctrine of Election is based on principles of waiver of right as contained in Order 2 Rule(2) CPC, principle of estoppel embodied in Article 114 of Qanoon-e-Shahdat Order, 1984 and principle of res judicata articulated under Section 11 CPC.

Relying on its judgment in Fehmida Begum v. Muhammad Khalid, 1992 SCMR 1908 and judgment of the Supreme Court of India in Bihar State Cooperative Union Ltd. v. Uma Shankar Sharan, (1992) 4 SCC 196, the Court held that having exhausted his remedy under Section 12 CPC, respondent could not seek another remedy for the same grievance as it would lead to multiplicity of proceedings and amount to abusing the process of law. Accordingly, the petition was allowed and High Court’s order was set aside. [Trading Corporation of Pakistan v. Devan Sugar Mills Limited, Civil Petition No. 60-K of 2018, decided on 05-09-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of A.M. Dhavale, J. allowed an appeal filed by the appellant-wife challenging an ex-parte order passed by a District Judge under Section 25 of the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890.

Vide the order impugned, custody of the minor girl aged 7 years was ordered to be handed over to the respondent-husband. The grievance of the appellant was that there was no proper service of summons on her and still the trial Judge proceeded ex-parte. As per the record of the trial court, summons were issued against the appellant in the present matter relating to the custody of the minor child. The bailiff visited her house. The appellant was out of station, the summons returned unserved. Trial Judge observed that summons were sent to the appellant but it returned with an endorsement as unserved. Therefore, he proceeded ex-parte against the appellant. Aggrieved by the said order, the appellant filed the instant appeal.

The High Court reiterated that the rule of fair trial is that nobody should be condemned unheard. It was observed that the present was not a case of proper service and the trial judge had no discretion to proceed ex-parte only on the basis of a  finding that notice was returned unserved.The envelope that was returned nowhere showed that the summons were refused by the appellant. The Court also referred to Order V CPC which deals with issue and service of summons. The Court was of the view that this was a child custody matter and the trial Judge was expected to be sensitive to the rights of the parties. The Court further observed, even it is assumed that the envelope returned with an endorsement as not claimed, still it does not mean that it is an endorsement of refusal to accept the service. Furthermore, even if there would have been a refusal to accept the service as per Order V Rule 17 CPC, service by affixing the copy of summons + plaint on the outer door or some other conspicuous part of the house. It was held that as there was no service of summons, the ex-parte order is not tenable and deserved to be set aside. [Jayshri Gajendra Mahajan v. Gajendra Pandit Mahajan,2018 SCC OnLine Bom 2233, dated 07-08-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Tripura High Court: The Order passed by the Chief Judicial Magistrate granting bail to the accused was upheld by a Single Judge Bench comprising of S. Talapatra, J. holding that the grounds for cancellation of bail were not made out in the instant petition.

The petition was filed under Section 439 (2) CrPC for cancellation of bail granted to the accused as he was found suffering from the psychotic disorder. The petitioner contended that the accused had killed his parents and sister, he was not in a fit mental condition; and if he was out on bail, he would do more macabre things.

After considering the entire record, the Court did not find any ground for cancellation of bail. The Court, relying on the decision of the Supreme Court passed in State (Delhi Admn.) v.  Sanjay Gandhi, (1978) 2 SCC 411, observed that the cancellation of bail stands on a different footing from the rejection of bail. The Court held that the following grounds are available for cancellation of a bail already granted:

  • if the accused made an attempt to flee from justice;
  • if he tried to tamper with the evidence;
  • if supervening circumstances show that it would no longer be conducive to a fair trial to allow the accused to retain his freedom during the trial;
  • if the order granting bail was without jurisdiction;
  • if there was a wrongful exercise of power by the Magistrate in granting bail.

The Court held that in the instant case, no such allegation was made. In fact, the accused whose bail was sought to be cancelled was still languishing in jail. The Court found no reason to interfere with the impugned order and the petition was, therefore, dismissed holding it to be sans merit. Moreover, it was gathered that the petitioner required proper medical intervention for which orders were made and directions were given to the appropriate Authority.[Kaushik Halder v.  State of Tripura,2018 SCC OnLine Tri 68, dated 10-05-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The Bench of Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy, JJ directed the State of Bihar to transfer M. Shahabuddin, from Siwan Jail, District Siwan to Tihar Jail, Delhi within a week. The said prder of the Court came after the counsel appearing in the matter relating to Journalist Rajdev Ranjan’s murder had argued that Md. Shahabuddin, who was spotted with one of the accused persons who was absconding after the crime, should be transferred from Siwan Jail to Tihar Jail as he has been successfully instrumental in committing the crime while in jail or while he is out from jail even for a minimum period of time. The pending trails against the accused are to take place via video conferencing.

Rejecting the argument that the accused has a right to be tried fairly under Article 21 and his right cannot be scuttled or corroded at the instance of the petitioners, the Court said that the right to fair trial is not singularly absolute, as is perceived, from the perspective of the accused. It takes in its ambit and sweep the right of the victim(s) and the society at large. The Court, hence, laid down the following principles regarding right to fair trial:

  • The fair trial which is constitutionally protected as a substantial right under Article 21 of the Constitution and also the statutory protection, does invite for consideration a sense of conflict with the interest of the victim(s) or the collective/interest of the society. When there is an intra-conflict in respect of the same fundamental right from the true perceptions, it is the obligation of the constitutional courts to weigh the balance in certain circumstances, the interest of the society as a whole, when it would promote and instill Rule of Law. A fair trial is not what the accused wants in the name of fair trial. Fair trial must soothe the ultimate justice which is sought individually, but is subservient and would not prevail when fair trial requires transfer of the criminal proceedings.
  • A wrongful act of an individual cannot derogate the right of fair trial as that interest is closer, especially in criminal trials, to the Rule of Law. An accused cannot be permitted to jettison the basic fundamentals of trial in the name of fair trial.
  • The weighing of balance between the two perspectives in case of fair trial would depend upon the facts and circumstances weighed on the scale of constitutional norms and sensibility and larger public interest.
  • Section 3 of the Transfer of Prisoners Act, 1950 does not create an impediment on the part the court to pass an order of transfer of an accused or a convict from one jail in a State to another prison in another State because it creates a bar on the exercise of power on the executive only.
  • The Court in exercise of power under Article 142 of the Constitution cannot curtail the fundamental rights of the citizens conferred under the Constitution and pass orders in violation of substantive provisions which are based on fundamental policy principles, yet when a case of the present nature arises, it may issue appropriate directions so that criminal trial is conducted in accordance with law. It is the obligation and duty of this Court to ensure free and fair trial.

The transfer was sought as one Chandrakeshwar Prasad had preferred the writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution of India that his two sons were abducted and murdered for which Md. Shahabuddin was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for life and that the appeal against the said conviction and sentence is pending before the High Court. He also submitted that his third son was also done to death two days prior to giving evidence in court in respect of trial of his other two brothers. The counsel appearing for the petitioners had, on 24.10.2016, submitted that if such a history-sheeter is allowed to remain in the jail of Siwan Jail, the distress and the agony of the family of the petitioners would know no bound. [Asha Ranjan v. State of Bihar, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 988, decided on 15.02.2017]