"The statements of the police or Excise witnesses cannot be regarded as doubtful merely they are the official witnesses. Something more than that needs to be projected by the defence so as to create doubt in the statement of these witnesses," the Jammu and Kashmir High Court observed recently.
A Division Bench comprising of Justices Tashi Rabstan and Vinod Chatterji Koul made it clear that merely because prosecution has not kept any civilian or independent person as a witness, same would not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the prosecution case is doubtful and the accused have been falsely implicated in a case.
"The evidence of official witnesses cannot be distrusted and disbelieved, merely on account of their official status…Even otherwise also it has been noticed that people generally resist and refrain themselves to be kept as witness in criminal cases for the reasons best known to them," the order further stated.
The guiding judgment on this point Jarnail Singh v. State of Punjab, (2011) 3 SCC 52, where the Supreme Court observed,
"It is an archaic notion that actions of the police officer should be approached with initial distrust. It is time now to start placing at least initial trust on the actions and the documents made by the police. At any rate the Courts cannot start with the presumption that the police records are untrustworthy. As a presumption of law, the presumption would be the other way round. The official acts of the police have been regularly performed is the wise principle of presumption and recognized even by the legislature."
The observations were made in a criminal appeal filed against conviction of the Petitioners with respect to recovery of 720 kgs of contraband.
While upholding their conviction under the Narcotics Drugs & Psychotropic Substance Act, the Division Bench held that not keeping independent witness associated during the search and recovery of the contraband from the appellants does not cast aspersions on the prosecution case.
It further noted that the defence counsel could not even project any objection to their testimonies, except that they are the official witnesses.
Other grounds for upholding the conviction are as follows:
- Documents of seizure were proved in the Court by prosecution witnesses. In such circumstances, not showing alleged contraband to the witnesses in the Court for identification is not fatal;
- Delay in handing over of seized contraband samples to FSL, allegedly due to heavy rains and other factors, does not in any way affect the case of the prosecution, as the seals were not tampered or damaged in any way. Even the chain of evidence was found to be complete;
- In a case where the informant himself is the investigator, by that itself cannot be said that the investigation is vitiated on the ground of bias or the like factor.
The Bench however partly allowed the appeal by reducing the period of imprisonment from 20 years to 15 years, in view of the fact that the Appellants are first time offenders [Balwinder Singh v. Asst. Commissioner, Customs & Central Excise, (2005) 4 SCC 146] The monetary penalty Rs. 1 lakh each was however maintained.
Arguments for State were led by AAG Aseem Sawhney.
Appellants were represented by Advocate RK Kotwal.
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Case Title: Jaspal Singh & Anr. v. State of J&K