Relatives who are not immediate ‘legal heirs’ of the victim can also file appeal against acquittal: Delhi High Court

Relatives who are not immediate ‘legal heirs’ of the victim can also file appeal against acquittal: Delhi High Court

Answering a reference whether a member of the extended family of a murder victim file an appeal challenging the acquittal of the accused, Full Bench of Delhi High court, has held that the word “Victim” would embrace any person who has suffered any loss or injury caused by reason of the act or omission for which the accused person has been charged. The Full bench, comprising of Justices Pradeep Nandrajog, Gita Mittal and  RavindraBhatin Ram Phalvs State gave a liberal interpretation to the term“a person who has suffered any loss or injury" to include a person who has suffered “harm caused to the mind‟,overruling the decision in Chattar Singh vs Subhash wherein it was held that appellant, who is not a legal heir of the victim cannot file appeal.

The court was interpreting Section 2(wa) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which was introduced by 2008 amendment of the code, which defines "victim" as "victim" means aperson who has suffered any loss or injury caused by reason of the act or omission for which the accused person has been charged (X)and the expression "victim" includes his or her guardian or legal heir.(Y)"The court held that the "means X and includes Y" clause cannot be interpreted so as to result in the included meaning Y excluding the actual meaning X of the term being defined. Thus "legal heirs" who are included within the definition of the term “victim” cannot exclude those who actually fall within the definition of “victim‟ by virtue of emotional harm suffered, such as the father or siblings of a deceased victim or other categories of persons.

For interpreting "means X and includes Y" expression, the court discussed the following decisions by Apex Court.   In South Gujarat Roofing Tiles Manufacturing Association v. State of Gujarat, (1976) 4 SCC 601 it was held that the "includes" is to be interpreted exhaustively i.e. as "comprises" or "means and includes", so as to limit the meaning of the term being defined to only those items following the term "includes". This interpretation was followed in Namboodripad v. Union of India, (2007) 4 SCC 502 Case also. But the Delhi High Court found thatSection 2(wa) cannot be interpreted by resorting to Namboodripad (supra) or South Gujarat (supra).

The court interpreted Section 2(wa) accepting the submission by Amicus Curiae who said that “ it is a well-established rule of statutory interpretation that the use of the phrase "includes y" after "means x" is meant to expand the ordinary definition of "x", to cover "y" as well. He, therefore, submitted that the formula "means x and includes y" should "enure to a wider interpretation being given to the definition rather than a restrictive one."

Overruling Chattar Singh VsSubash, Delhi High Court held  “This court does not agree with the decision in Chattar Singh that a Class II heir can be excluded by a Class I heir, as a Class II heir may well have suffered "injury" that is emotional/mental, thus bringing him/her within the definition of "victim" itself. To permit such a victim to be excluded by a Class I heir would amount to letting those "included" within the definition, exclude those falling within the ordinary and natural meaning of the word defined.”. According to the Full bench of the High Court, it is impermissible for an appellate court to shut out an appeal by a "legal heir" based only on her/his not being an immediate heir, or being lower down in hierarchy vis-à-vis entitlement to the crime victims’ estate.

Read the Judgment here.