Breaking: Erring Prosecutors And Investigating Officers Must Be Proceeded Against In Case Of Unmerited Acquittals And Wrongful Convictions; SC [Download Judgment]

Breaking: Erring Prosecutors And Investigating Officers Must Be Proceeded Against In Case Of Unmerited Acquittals And Wrongful Convictions; SC [Download Judgment]

The Supreme Court has come up with yet another landmark judgment in Criminal Law which is in the right direction of cleansing the criminal prosecution system of our country. The Apex Court was considering a Criminal Appeal by the State of Gujarat against acquittal of an accused person, who was originally awarded death penalty by the Trial Court.

The accused stood trial for rape and brutal murder of a six year old child.  The case began on filing a complaint  at  Navrangpura  Police  Station,  Ahmedabad, alleging the  kidnapping/abduction  of  a  six  year  old  girl  child  on 27.2.2003  by the accused enticing the child with a “gola”  (crushed  ice, with sweet flavoured syrup), and later she was  taken to  a   field and raped.  The child was  murdered  by inflicting injuries on her  head and other parts of the body with bricks and murderer took away the  “jhanjris” (anklets) worn by her, by chopping off her feet just  above  her  ankles. One of the most horrendous crime reported in the recent past.

The Trial Court relaying on circumstantial evidence awarded death penalty, which was later reversed by the High Court and acquitted the accused. The State appealed to the Supreme Court, but the Court through the present judgment acquitted the accused. While doing so, the Apex Court felt deep anguish and noticed the appalling standards of investigation. It went on to give far reaching directions which will have to be followed by the Police and prosecution agencies in the country. Notably, the SC has directed that a training programme be put in place within 6 months which would ensure that those who handle sensitive matters concerning investigation/prosecution are fully trained to handle the same. And thereupon, if any lapses are committed by them, they would not be able to feign innocence, and will be made liable to suffer departmental action for their lapses.

The judgment has been authored by Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, who heard the matter along with Justice C.K. Prasad.  The scathing observations of the Apex Court touch the conscience of the citizens and expose the inefficiency and failure of the concerned prosecution agencies in handling the investigation of the heinous crime. In the words of the Court, “He (accused) may be truly  innocent, or  he  may  have  succeeded  because  of  the  lapses  committed   by   the investigating/prosecuting teams”.  

Reacting to the judgment former Supreme Court Judge K T Thomas J. said; “as a trial lawyer on the criminal side for a period of 17 years and a trial sessions judge for a period of 8 years and as appellate judge in High Court and Supreme Court for a period nearly 18 years i am of the view that ‘unmerited acquittals’ are on account of inefficiency or lapse or even connivance on the part of the Public Prosecutor. A defective investigation can be7 corrected by Public Prosecutor utilising different provisions of Cr. PC and Evidence Act. No doubt Supreme Court has rightly pointed out to the authorities that erring Investigating Officers must be made answerable to the real culprits escaping from the criminal liability due to the lapses of Investigating Officer. To that extend I welcome the judgment.”


The relevant extracts of the judgment are reproduced as below:

“14.    We  have  given  our  thoughtful  consideration  to  the  submissions advanced at the hands of the learned counsel for the appellant,  which  have been duly noticed in paragraph 9 hereinabove.  It is also  relevant  for  us to record, that the learned counsel for the  appellant  did  not  advance  a single submission  in  addition  to  the  contentions  we  have  noticed  in paragraph 9 above.  The submissions advanced at the  hands  of  the  learned counsel for  the  appellant,  were  sought  to  be  supported  by  judgments rendered by this Court, all of which have been referred to in  paragraph  13 above.  The submissions advanced at the hands of  the  learned  counsel  for the appellant, based  on  each  of  the  judgments  cited,  have  also  been recorded by us in the said paragraph.  Having  considered  the  totality  of the facts and circumstances of  this  case,  specially  the  glaring  lapses committed in the investigation and prosecution  of  the  case  (recorded  in paragraph 11 of the instant judgment), as also the  inconsistencies  in  the evidence  produced  by  the  prosecution   (summarized   in   paragraph   12 hereinabove),  we  are  of  the  considered  view,  that  each  one  of  the submissions advanced at the hands of the learned counsel for  the  appellant is meritless.  For the circumstantial evidence produced by the  prosecution, primary reliance has been placed on the  statements  of  Bababhai  Naranbhai Solanki PW2, Naranbhai Manabhai Solanki PW5, and Dinesh Karshanbhai  Thakore PW6.  By demonstrating inconsistencies and infirmities in the statements  of the above witnesses, their statements have  also  been  rendered  suspicious and accordingly unreliable.  There is also a serious impression  of  fudging and padding at the hands of the agencies involved.  As  a  matter  of  fact, the  lack  of  truthfulness  of  the  statements  of  witnesses   has   been demonstrated by means of simple logic emerging  from  the  factual  position expressed through different prosecution witnesses (summarized in  paragraphs 11 and 12 above).  The evidence produced to  prove  the  charges,  has  been systematically  shattered,  thereby  demolishing  the  prosecution  version. More than all that, is the non production of evidence which the  prosecution has unjustifiably withheld, resulting in dashing all the States  efforts  to the  ground.   It  is  not  necessary  for  us  to   record   our   detailed determination on the submissions  advanced  at  the  hands  of  the  learned counsel for the appellant, for such reasons clearly emerge from the  factual position noticed in paragraphs 11 and 12 hereinabove.  Recording of  reasons all over again, would just be a  matter  of  repetition.   In  view  of  the above, we find  no  merit  in  this  appeal  and  the  same  is  accordingly dismissed.

15.    The  investigating  officials  and  the   prosecutors   involved   in presenting this case, have miserably failed  in  discharging  their  duties. They have been instrumental in denying to serve the cause of  justice.   The misery of the family of the  victim  Gomi  has  remained  unredressed.   The perpetrators of a horrendous crime, involving extremely ruthless and  savage treatment  to  the  victim,  have  remained  unpunished.   A  heartless  and merciless criminal, who has committed an extremely heinous crime,  has  gone scot-free.  He must be walking around in Ahmedabad, or some other  city/town in India, with his head held high.  A criminal on the  move.   Fearless  and fearsome.   Fearless  now,  because  he  could  not  be   administered   the punishment, he ought to have suffered.  And  fearsome,  on  account  of  his having remained unaffected by  the  brutal  crime  committed  by  him.   His actions now, know of no barriers.   He  could  be  expected  to  act  in  an unfathomable savage manner, uncomprehendable to a sane mind.

16.   As we discharge our responsibility in deciding  the  instant  criminal appeal, we proceed to apply principles of law, and  draw  inferences.   For, that is our job.  We are trained, not to be swayed by mercy  or  compassion. We are trained  to  adjudicate  without  taking  sides,  and  without  being mindful of the consequences.  We are required to adjudicate on the basis  of well drawn parameters.  We have done all that.   Despite  thereof,  we  feel crestfallen, heartbroken and sorrowful.  We could not  serve  the  cause  of justice, to an innocent child.   We  could  not  even  serve  the  cause  of justice, to her immediate family.  The members of the family  of  Gomi  must never have stopped cursing themselves, for not adequately  protecting  their child from a prowler, who had snatched  an  opportunity  to  brutalise  her,during their lapse in attentiveness.  And if the prosecution  version  about motive is correct, the crime was  committed  for  a  mere  consideration  of Rs.1,000/-.

17.   Every time there is an acquittal, the consequences are just the  same, as have been noticed hereinabove.  The  purpose  of  justice  has  not  been achieved.  There is also another side to be taken  into  consideration.   We have declared the accused-respondent innocent, by  upholding  the  order  of the High Court, giving him the benefit of doubt.  He may be truly  innocent, or  he  may  have  succeeded  because  of  the  lapses  committed   by   the investigating/prosecuting teams.  If he has escaped, despite  being  guilty, the investigating and the  prosecution  agencies  must  be  deemed  to  have seriously messed it all up.  And if the accused was  wrongfully  prosecuted, his  suffering  is  unfathomable.   Here   also,   the   investigating   and prosecuting agencies are blameworthy.6  It is  therefore  necessary,  not  to overlook even the hardship suffered by the accused, first during  the  trial of the case, and then at the appellate stages.  An innocent person does  not deserve to suffer the turmoil of a long drawn litigation,  spanning  over  a decade, or more.  The expenses incurred by an accused  in  his  defence  can dry up all his  financial  resources  –  ancestral  or  personal.   Criminal litigation could also ordinarily involve financial borrowings.   An  accused can be expected to be under a financial debt, by  the  time  his  ordeal  is over.

18.    Numerous  petitions  are  filed  before  this  Court,   praying   for anticipatory bail (under Section 438 of the Code of Criminal  Procedure)  at the behest of persons apprehending arrest, or for bail  (under  Section  439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure) at the behest of  persons  already  under detention.  In a large number of such petitions, the main contention  is  of false implication.  Likewise, many petitions seeking  quashing  of  criminal proceeding (filed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure)  come up for hearing day after day,  wherein  also,  the  main  contention  is  of fraudulent  entanglement/involvement.   In   matters   where   prayers   for anticipatory bail or for bail made under Sections 438 and  439  are  denied, or where a quashing  petition  filed  under  Section  482  of  the  Code  of Criminal Procedure is declined, the person  concerned  may  have  to  suffer periods of  incarceration  for  different  lengths  of  time.   They  suffer captivity and confinement most  of  the  times  (at  least  where  they  are accused of serious offences), 5till the culmination of their trial.  In  case of  their  conviction,  they  would  continue  in  confinement  during   the appellate stages also, and in matters which reach the  Supreme  Court,  till the disposal of  their  appeals  by  this  Court.   By  the  time  they  are acquitted at the appellate stage, they may  have  undergone  long  years  of custody.  When acquitted by this Court, they may have suffered  imprisonment of 10 years, or more.   When  they  are  acquitted  (by  the  trial  or  the appellate court), no one returns to them; what  was  wrongfully  taken  away from them.  The system responsible for the  administration  of  justice,  is responsible for having deprived them of   their  lives,  equivalent  to  the period of their detention.   It is  not  untrue,  that  for  all  the  wrong reasons, innocent persons are subjected to suffer the ignominy  of  criminal prosecution and to suffer shame  and  humiliation.   Just  like  it  is  the bounden duty of a court to serve the cause of  justice  to  the  victim,  so also, it is the bounden duty of a court to ensure that  an  innocent  person is not subjected to the rigours of criminal prosecution. 

19.   The situation referred to above needs to be remedied.   For  the  said purpose, adherence to a simple procedure  could  serve  the  objective.   We accordingly direct, that  on  the  completion  of  the  investigation  in  a criminal case, the prosecuting agency should  apply  its  independent  mind, and require all shortcomings to be  rectified,  if  necessary  by  requiring further investigation.   It  should  also  be  ensured,  that  the  evidence gathered  during  investigation  is  truly  and  faithfully   utilized,   by confirming that  all  relevant  witnesses  and  materials  for  proving  the charges are conscientiously presented during the  trial  of  a  case.   This would achieve two purposes.  Only persons against whom there  is  sufficient evidence, will have to  suffer  the  rigors  of  criminal  prosecution.   By following the above procedure, in most criminal prosecutions, the  concerned agencies will be able to successfully establish the guilt of the accused.

20.   Every acquittal should be understood  as  a  failure  of  the  justice delivery  system,  in  serving  the  cause  of  justice.   Likewise,   every acquittal should ordinarily lead to the inference, that an  innocent  person was wrongfully prosecuted.  It is  therefore,  essential  that  every  State should put in place a procedural mechanism,  which  would  ensure  that  the cause of justice is served, which would simultaneously ensure the  safeguard of interest of  those  who  are  innocent.   In  furtherance  of  the  above purpose, it is considered essential to direct the Home1 Department  of  every State, to examine all orders of acquittal and  to  record  reasons  for  the failure of each prosecution case.  A standing committee of  senior  officers of the police and prosecution departments, should be vested  with  aforesaid responsibility.  The consideration at the  hands  of  the  above  committee, should   be   utilized   for   crystalizing   mistakes   committed    during investigation, and/or prosecution, or both.  The Home  Department  of  every State Government will incorporate in its existing  training  programmes  for junior investigation/prosecution officials course- content  drawn  from  the above consideration.  The same  should  also  3constitute  course-content  of refresher  training   programmes,   for   senior   investigating/prosecuting officials.  The above responsibility for preparing training  programmes  for officials, should be  vested  in  the  same  committee  of  senior  officers referred to above.  Judgments like the one in hand (depicting more  than  10 glaring lapses in the investigation/prosecution of the  case),  and  similar other judgments, may also be added to the training programmes. The  course content will be reviewed by the above committee annually, on  the  basis  of fresh  inputs,  including  emerging  scientific  tools   of   investigation, judgments of Courts, and on the basis of 2experiences gained by the  standing committee while examining failures, in unsuccessful  prosecution  of  cases.

We further direct, that the above training programme be put in place  within 6 months. This would ensure that those persons who handle sensitive  matters concerning investigation/prosecution are fully trained to handle  the  same. Thereupon, if any lapses are committed by them, they would not  be  able  to feign innocence, when they are made liable to  suffer  departmental  action, for their lapses.

21.   On the culmination of a criminal  case  in  acquittal,  the  concerned investigating/prosecuting official(s) responsible for  such  acquittal  must necessarily be identified.  A finding needs to be  recorded  in  each  case, whether the lapse was innocent or blameworthy.   Each  erring  officer  must suffer the consequences of his lapse, by  appropriate  departmental  action, whenever called for.  Taking  into  consideration  the  seriousness  of  the matter,  the  concerned  official  may  be  withdrawn   from   investigative responsibilities,  permanently  or  temporarily,  depending  purely  on  his culpability.  We also  feel  compelled  to  require  the  adoption  of  some indispensable measures, which may reduce the malady suffered by  parties  on both  sides  of  criminal  litigation.   8Accordingly  we  direct,  the  Home Department of every State Government, to formulate a  procedure  for  taking action  against  all  erring  investigating/prosecuting  officials/officers. All such erring officials/officers identified, as  responsible  for  failure of a prosecution  case,  on  account  of  sheer  negligence  or  because  of culpable lapses, must  suffer  departmental  action.   The  above  mechanism formulated would infuse seriousness in the performance of investigating  and prosecuting duties, and would ensure that investigation and 9prosecution  are purposeful and decisive.  The instant direction shall also be  given  effect to within 6 months.

22.   A copy of the instant judgment shall be transmitted  by  the  Registry of this Court, to the Home Secretaries of all State  Governments  and  Union Territories, within one week.  All the  concerned  Home  Secretaries,  shall ensure  compliance  of  the  directions  recorded  above.   The  records  of consideration, in compliance with the above direction, shall be maintained.10

23.   We hope and trust the Home Department of the State  of  Gujarat,  will identify the erring officers in the instant case, and will take  appropriate departmental action against them,  as  may  be  considered  appropriate,  in accordance with law.



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