21 Sep 2023 1:55 PM GMT
The Karnataka High Court has dismissed a PIL seeking a fresh investigation by either the CBI or Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the 2012 case of rape and murder of a 17-year-old student.A division bench of Chief Justice Prasanna B Varale and Justice Krishna S Dixit dismissed the plea while stating that persons unrelated to the criminal case could not seek a fresh investigation upon...
The Karnataka High Court has dismissed a PIL seeking a fresh investigation by either the CBI or Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the 2012 case of rape and murder of a 17-year-old student.
A division bench of Chief Justice Prasanna B Varale and Justice Krishna S Dixit dismissed the plea while stating that persons unrelated to the criminal case could not seek a fresh investigation upon acquittal or conviction of the accused.
“The acquittal order is not put in challenge in this PIL and rightly so. The same can be put in challenge in an appeal. As long as that order stands, in our opinion a de novo investigation cannot be ordered for an askance by persons who were neither victims, complainants, witnesses or in any way associated with the criminal case in question.”
The court was hearing a PIL which sought a fresh investigation and action against erring officials involved in the previous round of litigation. They also sought guidelines for investigations conducted during the crucial 'golden hours' following crimes like murder or rape.
The petitioners claimed that on the basis of the final report, a case came to be registered, charges were framed and a trial was conducted against accused Santhosh Rao. However, the trial court acquitted the accused finding serious lapses in the investigation process and set him free. They argued that this justifies a fresh CBI investigation.
Moreover, according to petitioners, the acquittal resulted in a lot of social unrest and public agitation to coerce the authorities to do justice to the deceased victim and her family by undertaking a de novo investigation.
The Court placed reliance on Vinay Tyagi v. Irshad Ali & Ors (2013) 5 SCC 762 and held that it is not a standard practice to order a de novo (fresh) investigation after a trial has concluded with either an acquittal or a conviction. It reiterates that the criminal justice system is primarily designed to try the offence, not to retry the offender.
“Ordinarily, the established canons of criminal jurisprudence abhor the request for de novo investigation once a full-fledged trial having taken place, an acquittal/conviction order is entered in any criminal case.”
The Court noted that as many as 35 witnesses were examined from the side of the prosecution; 40 documents came to be produced & marked as exhibits; 26 material objects were also noted & marked. It was after analysing all of this that the acquittal order was passed by the trial Judge.
“Merely because some findings as to lapse on the part of investigating agencies have been recorded, this court cannot readily grant the prayer of the petitioners for a de novo investigation.”
Further, it was found that the State had previously entrusted the case to the CBI, a decision that was later challenged and quashed by the court. Therefore, ordering another CBI investigation would contradict the court's earlier decision and established legal principles.
“The State Government vide order dated 06.11.2013 had entrusted the investigation of the case to the CBI earlier. However, that order came to be quashed by a Coordinate Bench of this Court vide judgment dated 27.01.2021. Therefore investigation at the hands of the CID was accomplished and trial having taken place the acquittal order is recorded by the court of competent jurisdiction. It hardly needs to be stated that in our system of administration of criminal justice, normally what is tried is the offence and not the offender.”
It also held that while a fresh investigation can be ordered if a very strong case is made out, the present plea was not one such. It was highlighted that for that to happen, the order of acquittal or conviction needs to be set aside.
The court emphasised that public agitation or social unrest cannot be used as a valid reason to overturn judicial orders that follow a trial. It reaffirmed that judicial orders should stand unless they are appropriately challenged within the legal system.
“The public agitation, social unrest or the like do occur in any democratic set up like ours, for various reasons. However, they constitute a poor justification for the courts to set at naught the judicial orders passed after the trial/hearing.”
The court highlighted that the petitioners, who are not directly related to the case, lack the standing to request this investigation in the name of public interest or on behalf of the victim's family, who are not parties to the petition. It pointed out that anyone affected by an acquittal has the right to challenge it through separate legal processes.
“Here is a case that ended in acquittal after a full fledged trial. No prayer is made nor can be made for quashment of the same, in PIL jurisdiction invoked by the strangers to criminal case. Once a final order is recorded in a criminal case, howsoever wrong it may be, it continues to exist in the eye of law for all practical purposes till the same is vacated in an appropriate proceeding.”
The bench opined,
“No citizen adjudged innocent after a due trial would be safe as a member of civil society, should his acquittal be set aside and fresh investigation or trial be directed in PIL jurisdiction merely because there is public agitation. Similarly, the civil society shall not be safe, should an order of conviction secured by the State after full fledged trial be set at naught and eventually the convict be set free only because of the argued social unrest and that the people are violently thronging the public streets.”
Finally, it said that usually, in criminal cases, it is for the State to prefer the appeal against the acquittal order. It is not that in the event the state decides not to prefer one, that will be the end of the road.
"The remedial provisions availing to the victims or the aggrieved do obtain in the amended Cr.P.C., 1973. The aggrieved persons can put the acquittal order in challenge. The victim (which includes family of the deceased) has an unconditional right of appeal and no leave of the court for the same is needed. In the absence of the victim, others also can avail certain remedies, of course with the leave of court.”
The court also reminded that remedies exist within the legal system for those affected by an acquittal or a conviction and that individuals can challenge these orders through appeals and other legal procedures.
Accordingly, it dismissed the PIL.
Case Title: Girish Bharadwaj & Others And Union of India & Others
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Kar) 364
Appearance: Senior Advocate Arun Shyam M for Advocate Suyog Herele E for Petitioner.
Deputy Solicitor General Shanthi Bhushan H for R1.
AGA Niloufer Akbar for R2 To R5 & R7
Case No: WRIT PETITION NO. 19366 OF 2023