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Dowry Death: Ingredients Shall Be Proved By Prosecution Beyond Reasonable Doubt To Invoke Presumption: SC [Read Judgment]

The bench did not consider two per-incuriam judgments authored by Justice Vikramjit Sen, which held that prosecution can discharge the initial burden to prove the ingredients of S.304B even by preponderance of probabilities and the accused has to prove his defence beyond reasonable doubt.

A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court has reiterated that one of the essential ingredients of dowry death under Section 304B of the Penal Code is that the accused must have subjected the woman to cruelty in connection with demand for dowry soon before her death and that this ingredient has to be proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt and only then the court will presume that the accused has committed the offence of dowry death under Section 113B of the Indian Evidence Act.

A bench comprising Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Amitava Roy acquitted accused in-laws in a dowry death case, holding that the prosecution failed to prove this indispensable component of Sections 304B and 498A of the Penal Code beyond reasonable doubt.

The court also held that the factum of unnatural death in the matrimonial home and that too within seven years of marriage, therefore, is thus ipso facto not sufficient to bring home the charge under Sections 304B and 498A of the Code against them.

Two per-incuriam judgments

A two-judge bench [Vikramjit Sen and Kurian Joseph JJ] of the Supreme Court in Sher Singh @ Partapa Vs. State of Haryana dt 9.1.2015, while dealing with S.304B IPC and S.113B Evidence Act, held as follows:

  1. The prosecution can discharge the initial burden to prove the ingredients of S.304B even by preponderance of probabilities.
  2. Once the presence of the concomitants are established or shown or proved by the prosecution, even by preponderance of possibility, the initial presumption of innocence is replaced by an assumption of guilt of the accused, thereupon, transferring the heavy burden of proof upon him and requiring him to produce evidence dislodging his guilt, beyond reasonable doubt.

When an accused is charged with Dowry Death he ought to have entered the witness box to prove his innocence beyond reasonable doubt; SC [Read the Judgment] Updated

Following the above judgment, the same bench in Ramakant Mishra @ Lalu held:

“The defence has failed to comply with Section 113B of the Evidence Act. The accused being charged of the commission of a dowry death ought to have entered the witness box themselves. The accused were present on the scene at the time of the occurrence, which turned out to be fatal, and that added to their responsibility to give a credible version of their innocence in the dowry death”.

Dowry Death: Prosecution has to prove the ingredients only by standard of preponderance of probabilities but Accused has to discharge his burden by proving his defence beyond reasonable doubt: SC

In the second judgment, Justice Sen went one step further and held that the accused ought to have entered the witness box themselves. Unfortunately, the court’s attention was not invited to the second proviso to S.315 of Code of Criminal Procedure.

Both the judgments had been criticised in legal circles, as these are not only contrary to the well established jurisprudential standards in criminal cases, but also amount to negation of the fundamental right to fair trial guaranteed under Article 21 of Constitution of India.

Re-writing the Concept of Burden of Proof; Supreme Court Judgment in Sher Singh @ Partapa Vs. State of Haryana requires re-consideration

Read the Judgment here.

This article has been made possible because of financial support from Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation.

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