Attachment proceedings against an accused who died during pendency of trial impossible: SC [Read Judgment]

Attachment proceedings against an accused who died during pendency of trial impossible: SC [Read Judgment]

It is incomprehensible, therefore, that such an application could have been made in regard to a dead person who obviously cannot be said to be ordinarily resident or carrying on business anywhere, the Court observed.

The Supreme Court of India in U. SUBHADRAMMA VS. STATE OF A.P has observed that property of a person who was accused of an offence of misappropriation but who died during the pendency of the criminal trial cannot be attached in the hands of his legal representatives under the provisions of Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 1944.

Apex Court bench comprising of Justices S.A. Bobde and Amitava Roy, terming the order of District Judge ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘disturbing’, reiterated that criminal court cannot continue proceedings against a dead person and find him guiltyand such proceedings are contrary to the very foundation of criminal jurisprudence.

The Court also observed that the finding of trial court that a person who died during the pendency of trial is alone responsible for the offences is completely vitiated as null and void because a criminal court cannot continue proceedings against a dead person and find him guilty.

BACKGROUND

Ramachandraiah, was accused of the offence of misappropriation of funds. He died during the pendency of Trial. But even after death, Court proceedings continued and the Court found the trial court found him responsible for the offences though he could not be adjudged guilty since he had expired.

The matter did not stop there. The state moved application under Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 1944 before the District Judge seeking attachment of the property of the deceased. The widow and sons of the accused were served with notice and the District Judge later confirmed the attachment order. They approached the High Court but in vain. Finally they moved Apex Court.

ISSUE

Whether the property of a person which was merely case of an offence of misappropriation but who died during the pendency of the criminal trial can be attached in the hands of his legal representatives under the provisions of Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 1944.

ATTACHMENT PROCEEDINGS AGAINST A DEAD PERSON IMPOSSIBLE

The Court observed:“clause 31 (of the ordinance) which empowers the Government to authorise making of such an application to the District Judge where it has reason to believe that any person has committed any scheduled offence. But however clause 3 requires the Government to make such an application to the District Judge within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the said person ordinarily resides or carries on business; thus clearly requiring the existence of such a person. It excludes the possibility of proceedings against a dead person.

FINDING A DEAD PERSON AS RESPONSIBLE FOR OFFENCES IS NULL AND VOID

The Court further said: “In the first place, the finding of the trial court that Ramachandraiah was alone responsible for the offences is completely vitiated as null and void since Ramachandraiah had admittedly died on the date this finding was rendered. It is too well settled that a prosecution cannot continue against adead person. A fortiori a criminal court cannot continue proceedings against a dead person and find him guilty. Such proceedings and the findings are contrary to the very foundation of criminal jurisprudence. In such a case the accused does not exist and cannot be convicted. Consequently, the learned District Judge committed a gross error of law in acting upon such a finding and treating Ramachandraiah as guilty of such offences while making the order of attachment and while confirming the said order of attachment of properties.”

NO LEGAL PROVISION WHICH ENABLES CONTINUANCE OF PROSECUTION UPON DEATH OF ACCUSED

The Court said: “we find that the learned District Judge could not have proceeded with the attachment proceedings at all since the attachment proceedings were initiated by the State against Ramachandraiah under clause 3 of the Criminal Law Amendment Ordinance, 1944, who was actually dead. Clause 3 contemplates that such an application must be made to the District Judge within the local limits of whose jurisdiction the said person ordinarily resides or carries on business, in respect of property which the State Government believes the said person to have procured by means of the offences. It is incomprehensible, therefore, that such an application could have been made in regard to a dead person who obviously cannot be said to be ordinarily resident or carrying on business anywhere. There is no legal provision which enables continuance of prosecution upon death of the accused. We must record that the proceedings and the decisions of the courts below are disturbing, to say the least. In the first place, though the accused had died, the trial court proceeded with the trial and recorded a conviction two years after his death. Then, this null and void conviction was used as a basis for making an attachment of his properties before the Sessions Court. Astonishingly, all applications succeeded, the attachment was made absolute and over and above all, the High Court upheld the attachment.”

Read the Judgment here.