Breaking: Acquittal If IO & Informant Same Person: Benefit Of 'Mohan Lal' Judgment Not Available To Cases Prior To It: SC
"A proper administration of the criminal justice delivery system, therefore requires balancing the rights of the accused and the prosecution, so that the law laid down in Mohan Lal (supra) is not allowed to become a spring board for acquittal in prosecutions prior to the same, irrespective of all other considerations."
In an important judgment, the Supreme Court has observed that all pending criminal prosecutions, trials and appeals prior to the law laid down in the judgment in Mohan Lal vs. State of Punjab (acquittal if investigator-informant is the same person), shall continue to be governed by the individual facts of the case.
The bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Navin Sinha and Justice KM Joseph was considering an appeal (Varinder Kumar vs. State of Himachal Pradesh) against a conviction in an NDPS case. Strong reliance was placed on Mohan Lal judgment to contend that the prosecution is vitiated because the informant and the Investigating Officer is the same person.
The bench initially explained why in Mohan Lal case, it did not carve out any exceptions. The bench said: "The facts of that case did not show any need to visualise what all exceptions must be carved out and provided for. The attention of the Court was also not invited to the need for considering the carving out of exceptions."
Mohan Lal Judgment
In August, last year, three-judge bench comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice R Banumathi and Justice Navin Sinha had pronounced the judgment in Mohanlal case. The bench, taking note of conflicting views, had finally held: "It is therefore held that a fair investigation, which is but the very foundation of fair trial, necessarily postulates that the informant and the investigator must not be the same person. Justice must not only be done, but must appear to be done also. Any possibility of bias or a predetermined conclusion has to be excluded. This requirement is all the more imperative in laws carrying a reverse burden of proof."
Societal interest equally important
The court further observed that societal interest is equally important as individual rights of the accused. It said: "Individual rights of the accused are undoubtedly important. But equally important is the societal interest for bringing the offender to book and for the system to send the right message to all in the society —be it the law-abiding citizen or the potential offender. 'Human rights' are not only of the accused but, extent apart, also of the victim, the symbolic member of the society as the potential victim and the society as a whole"
The court, therefore said that the judgment in Mohan Lal judgment cannot be allowed to become a spring board by an accused for being catapulted to acquittal, irrespective of all other considerations pursuant to an investigation and prosecution when the law in that regard was nebulous. Justice Navin Sinha said:
"Criminal jurisprudence mandates balancing the rights of the accused and the prosecution. If the facts in Mohan Lal (supra) were telling with regard to the prosecution, the facts in the present case are equally telling with regard to the accused. There is a history of previous convictions of the appellant also. We cannot be oblivious of the fact that while the law stood nebulous, charge sheets have been submitted, trials in progress or concluded, and appeals pending all of which will necessarily be impacted. "
The bench dismissed the appeal against conviction in the present case and further observed:
"The criminal justice delivery system, cannot be allowed to veer exclusively to the benefit of the offender making it uni-directional exercise. A proper administration of the criminal justice delivery system, therefore requires balancing the rights of the accused and the prosecution, so that the law laid down in Mohan Lal (supra) is not allowed to become a spring board for acquittal in prosecutions prior to the same, irrespective of all other considerations. We therefore hold that all pending criminal prosecutions, trials and appeals prior to the law laid down in Mohan Lal (supra) shall continue to be governed by the individual facts of the case"
Two Judge Bench Doubted 'Mohan Lal' Judgment
Last month, a two judge bench had expressed its disagreement with the view taken in Mohan Lal judgment where it held that that the accused is entitled to acquittal if informant and the investigator in NDPS cases is the same person. The bench comprising Justice UU Lalit and Justice MR Shah had said: "We may prima facie express that we find it difficult to accept the view taken in Mohan Lal (Supra). Some of the decided cases have maintained a distinction in that where the investigation was conducted by the informant himself, appropriate weightage was given while appreciating the evidence. In a given case, where the complainant himself had conducted investigation, such aspect of the matter can certainly be given due weightage while assessing the evidence on record but it would be completely a different thing to say that the trial itself would be vitiated for such infraction. But Mohan Lal (Supra) has ruled that the trial itself would stand vitiated on that count."