In a judgment delivered on Friday, the Supreme Court held that the prosecution in all criminal cases shall furnish the list of statements, documents, material objects and exhibits which are not relied upon by the investigating officer.
The role of the public prosecutor is intrinsically dedicated to conducting a fair trial, and not for a "thirst to reach the case in conviction", the bench comprising Justices Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and Bela M. Trivedi remarked.
The court made this observation while considering the appeals filed by persons convicted under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). The death sentence imposed on them by the Trial Court was confirmed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh. (The Supreme Court has commuted the death penalty to life imprisonment for a minimum term of 25 years.)
While perusing the evidence and the prosecution version of the case, the court noted that a police officer had deposed as defence witness in this case and that there has been concealment of her involvement in the case. The bench, therefore, made observations regarding the role of the public prosecutor, and trial court, in arriving at the truth by way of fair disclosure and scrutiny by inquiry, respectively.
Not for a "thirst to reach the case in conviction"
The court observed that a public prosecutor (appointed under Section 24 CrPC) occupies a statutory office of high regard. The court said:
"Rather than a part of the investigating agency, they are instead, an independent statutory authority who serve as officers to the court. The role of the public prosecutor is intrinsically dedicated to conducting a fair trial, and not for a "thirst to reach the case in conviction".
The court also extensively referred to the observations made in Siddharth Vasisht @ Manu Sharma v. State of NCT Delhi on the due process protection afforded to the accused, and its effect on fair disclosure responsibilities of the public prosecuton. The court noted the following provisions regarding supply of documents etc. in the draft guidelines approved in Criminal trials guidelines regarding Inadequacies and Deficiencies, in re v. State of Andhra Pradesh:
Every Accused shall be supplied with statements of witness recorded under Sections 161 and 164 Cr.PC and a list of documents, material objects and exhibits seized during investigation and relied upon by the Investigating Officer (I.O) in accordance with Sections 207 and 208, Cr. PC.
Explanation: The list of statements, documents, material objects and exhibits shall specify statements, documents, material objects and exhibits that are not relied upon by the Investigating Officer.
Taking note of this, the court said:
"In view of the above discussion, this court holds that the prosecution, in the interests of fairness, should as a matter of rule, in all criminal trials, comply 80 (2021) 10 SCC 598 97 with the above rule, and furnish the list of statements, documents, material objects and exhibits which are not relied upon by the investigating officer. The presiding officers of courts in criminal trials shall ensure compliance with such rules."
Manoj vs State of Madhya Pradesh | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 510 | CrA 248-250 OF 2015 | 20 May 2022
Coram: Justices Uday Umesh Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi
Counsel: Sr. Adv Anjana Prakash, Adv Shri Singh for the appellants, AAG Swarupama Chaturvedi for the State
Death Sentence - Practical guidelines issued to collect mitigating circumstances of the accused at the trial stage- The trial court must elicit information from the accused and the state -The state, must - for an offence carrying capital punishment - at the appropriate stage, produce material which is preferably collected beforehand, before the Sessions Court disclosing psychiatric and psychological evaluation of the accused - State, must in a time-bound manner, collect additional information pertaining to the accused -Information regarding the accused's jail conduct and behaviour, work done (if any), activities the accused has involved themselves in, and other related details should be called for in the form of a report from the relevant jail authorities (Para 213-217)
Criminal Trial - Sentencing - Public opinion neither an objective circumstance relating to crime, nor the criminal, and the courts must exercise judicial restraint and play a balancing role. (Para 227)
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 ; Section 235(2) - The sentencing hearing contemplated under Section 235(2), is not confined merely to oral hearing but intended to afford a real opportunity to the prosecution as well as the accused, to place on record facts and material relating to various factors on the question of sentence and if interested by either side, to have evidence adduced to show mitigating circumstances to impose a lesser sentence or aggravating grounds to impose death penalty. (Para 205 -212)
Criminal Trial - Draft Criminal Rules Of Practice, 2021- The prosecution, in the interests of fairness, should as a matter of rule, in all criminal trials, furnish the list of statements, documents, material objects and exhibits which are not relied upon by the investigating officer. The presiding officers of courts in criminal trials shall ensure compliance with such rules. (Para 179)
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 ; Section 24 - Public Prosecutor - A public prosecutor occupies a statutory office of high regard. Rather than a part of the investigating agency, they are instead, an independent statutory authority who serve as officers to the court. The role of the public prosecutor is intrinsically dedicated to conducting a fair trial, and not for a "thirst to reach the case in conviction". (Para 171 - 177)
Criminal Investigation - Test identification parade - TIPs should normally be conducted at the earliest possible time to eliminate the chance of accused being shown to witnesses before the identification parade, which might otherwise affect such witnesses' memory - There is no hard and fast rule that delay or failure in holding the TIP ipso facto renders the evidence inadmissible or unacceptable; it however, affects the credibility and weight attached to such identification.(Para 100)
Criminal Trial - DNA reports - The need to ensure quality in the testing and eliminate the possibility of contamination of evidence - Being an opinion, the probative value of such evidence has to vary from case to case - This court has relied on DNA reports, in the past, where the guilt of an accused was sought to be established. Notably, the reliance was to corroborate. (Para 121)
Criminal Trial - Circumstantial evidence- Principles applicable to appreciation of evidence in cases involving circumstantial evidence discussed. [Referred to Sharad Birdi Chand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra (1984) 4 SCC 116 et al.] (149-151)
Criminal Trial - The omission of some of the prosecution witnesses to mention a particular fact, or corroborate something, which is deposed to by other witnesses, therefore, does not ipso facto favour an accused. What is important, however, is whether the omission to depose about a fact is so fundamental that the prosecution version becomes shaky and incredulous - unless it is shown that the omission to examine a witness, who had previously participated during the investigation and whose statement was recorded by the police, undermines the prosecution case, or impacts on it significantly, the foundation of the fact or facts which are sought to be proved, remains unshaken as long as that fact is deposed to or spoken about by other witnesses, whose testimonies are to be seen in their own terms. Therefore, the omission to examine the individuals left out, but who the prosecution claimed, had participated during the investigation, did not affect its case, as far as the circumstances held to have been established by it, are concerned. (Para 159-161)
Summary - Appellants' conviction under Section 302 IPC upheld but death sentence commuted to life imprisonment for a minimum term of 25 years.