If An Innocent Person Is Sent To Jail AndUndergoes The Sentence,The Scars Left By The Miscarriage Of Justice Cannot Be Erased By Any Subsequent Act Of Expiation Says Supreme Court; Cautions Against Wrongful Convictions [Read Judgment]

If An Innocent Person Is Sent To Jail AndUndergoes The Sentence,The Scars Left By The Miscarriage Of Justice Cannot Be Erased By Any Subsequent Act Of Expiation Says Supreme Court; Cautions Against Wrongful Convictions [Read Judgment]

Holding the conviction of a man convicted for setting his sister in law on fire, resulting in her death as invalid, the Supreme Court yesterday highlighted the plight of an innocent person.

The case came up before the Supreme Court when a Trial Court in Haryana convicted the husband and brother in law for the murder of the wife. The division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court too dismissed the appeal filed. Hearing the appeal, the Court acquitted the brother in law while maintaining the conviction of the husband.

The prosecution submitted to the Court that the deceased had made a dying declaration. The judgment of the Supreme Court notes the same as, “husband, Jeth and Jethani poured kerosene oil on her and set ablaze. It is also  stated  in  her  dying  declaration  that  her  husband  had illicit  relation  with  his  Bhabi Bimla  (since  deceased),  with the result she used to pick up quarrel with him. Her husband gave her beatings under the influence of intoxication. None made attempt to extinguish fire.”

At the trial, the doctor who conducted the post-mortem opined, “burn  injuries were  approximately  50%  and  cause  of  death  of  Rajni  was due  to  ante  mortem  burns,  which  were  sufficient  to  cause death in ordinary course of nature.”

Another doctor who examined the deceased said that possibility of burn injuries in this case by fall of kerosene oil on the head cannot be ruled out. The father of the deceased mentioned about dowry demands and the history, which included court proceedings and interventions from Panchayat.

The case also involved the testimony of a child, which was declared inadmissible by the Trial Court saying the child was tutored. The child had said, “She heard cries of her mother in the kitchen.  She came out and told that she had caught fire due to falling of burning lamp on her as glass of the lamp got broken after falling upon her.”

The Trial Court convicted all the three accused persons under Section 302/498-A  read  with  Section  34  IPC  and  sentenced  them with  rigorous  imprisonment  for  life  and  imposed  a  fine  of Rs.5,000/-under  Section  302  read  with  Section  34  IPC  and rigorous  imprisonment   for  one  year  and  fine  of  Rs.  500/-under Section 498A-read with Section 34 IPC on each accused convicts.

The judgment mentions the contentions submitted by the appellants, it states, “Mrs. Meenakshi Arora, learned senior counsel appearing for  the  appellants  assailed  the  judgment  of  conviction  as being contrary to law and the facts of the case and that the prosecution  has  not  proved  the  case  beyond  reasonable doubt.” The Ld. Counsel also submitted, “The dying declaration cannot be relied upon and conviction cannot be based on vague statement. She submitted that in the dying declaration,  there  is  neither  any  mention  of  time  of  its recording nor there is any mention about the state of mind of  the  deceased  while  making  her  statement  before  the Magistrate.   The dying declaration is also not in question answer form.”

It was also submitted that the motive of giving dying declaration could not be ruled out.

The judgment also notes the final contention made, “Finally, she submitted that in the absence of eye-witness  to  the  incident  the  prosecution  story  based  on inconsistent  evidence  of  the  witnesses  cannot  be  relied upon.”

On the other hand, Addl.  Advocate General appearing for the State, firstly submitted that the statement made by the deceased on the dying declaration is sufficient to convict the appellants for the offence committed by them.

The judgment written by Justice Eqbal also quoted the judgment delivered by a 3 judge bench of the Supreme Court in Kali Ram  v.  State  of  Himachal Pradesh, (1973)  2  SCC  808 as, “It  is  no  doubt  true  that  wrongful acquittals  are  undesirable  and  shake  the confidence of the people in the judicial system, much  worse,  however,  is  the  wrongful conviction  of  an  innocent  person.  The consequences of the conviction of an innocent person are far more serious and its reverberations cannot but be felt in a civilised society.  Suppose  an  innocent  person  is convicted  of  the  offence  of  murder  and  is hanged, nothing further can undo the mischief for  the  wrong  resulting  from  the  unmerited conviction  is  irretrievable.  To  take  another instance,  if  an  innocent  person  is  sent  to  jail and undergoes the sentence, the scars left by the miscarriage of justice cannot be erased by any  subsequent  act  of  expiation.  Not many persons  undergoing  the  pangs  of  wrongful conviction  are  fortunate  like  Dreyfus  to  have an  Emile  Zola  to  champion  their  cause  and succeed in getting the verdict of guilt annulled. All  this  highlights  the  importance  of  ensuring, as  far  as  possible,  that  there  should  be  no wrongful  conviction  of  an  innocent  person. Some risk of the conviction of the innocent, of course,  is  always  there  in  any  system  of  the administration  of  criminal  justice.  Such  a  risk can be minimised but not ruled out altogether. It may in this connection be apposite to refer to the following observations of Sir Carleton Alien quoted on  p.  157  of  The  Proof  of  Guilt by Glanville Williams, 2nd Edn.:“I  dare  say  some  sentimentalists  would assent to the proposition that it is better that a thousand  or  even  a  million  guilty  persons should  escape  than  that  one  innocent  person should suffer; but no responsible and practical person  would  accept  such  a  view.  For  it  is obvious  that  if  our  ratio  is  extended indefinitely,  there  comes  a  point  when  the whole  system  of  justice  has  broken  down  and society is in a state of chaos.”

The Court also negated the submission made by the appellant regarding dying declaration, it states “Merely  because  dying declaration  was  not  in  question  answer  form,  the  sanctity attached to a dying declaration as it comes from the mouth of a dying person cannot be brushed aside and its reliability cannot be doubted.”

Acquitting the brother in law and his wife, the Court noted “we are of the view that there areno  corroborative  evidence  to  come  to  the  conclusion  that these  two  participated  along  with  the  main  accused Mahender Singh  for  the  commission  of  the  offence.” Also, “Admittedly, neither in the dying  declaration  nor  in  the  statement  of  witnesses  it  has come in light as to what act was done by the accused- Prem Kumar.”

The Court then said, “In  our  considered  opinion,  the  benefit  of  doubt  should be  given  to  accused-appellant  Prem  Kumar  and  his conviction cannot be sustained.”

However, the Court convicted the husband and said “Sufficient  evidence  has  come  on  record  and  the prosecution  has  established  the  case  that  it  was  Mahender Singh  at  whose  instance  and  instigation  she  was  subjected to  death  by  pouring  kerosene  oil  and  lit  on  fire.   We  are, therefore, of the view that the finding recorded by the trial court as also by the Appellate Court as against main accused Mahender Singh (husband  of  the  deceased)  cannot  be interfered with.”