2 May 2010

Acquittal order not to be easily disturbed: Supreme Court

Restating the law that an order passing by the lower court acquitting the accused should not be easily disturbed, the Supreme Court in a recent decision titled M.C. Ali versus State of Kerala set aside the order of Kerala High Court wherein it has reversed the acquittal of the accused. The Supreme Court went on to examine the evidence to hold that the High Court should not have come to such a conclusion. In these circumstances, finding apt, the Supreme Court declared the law as under;
43. We have considered the submissions made by the learned counsel. We may notice here that the High Court has clearly recorded the legal proposition involved in this case in the following words:
“Being an appeal against acquittal, we are bound to see whether views expressed by the learned Sessions Judge are reasonably possible. If the views expressed are reasonably possible, even if another view is possible, appellate court will not interfere in it.”
The aforesaid statement of law recognizes the settled position in the case of Antar Singh v. State of M.P., (1979) 1 SCC 79: “This Court has repeatedly held that although in an appeal against acquittal, the powers of the High Court in dealing with the case are as extensive as of the Trial Court, but before reversing the acquittal, the High Court should bear in mind that the initial presumption of the innocence of the accused is in no way weakened, if not reinforced, by his acquittal at the trial; and further, the opinion of the Trial Court which had the advantage of observing the demeanour of the witnesses, as to the value of their evidence should not be lightly discarded. Where two views of the evidence are reasonably possible, and the Trial Court has opted for one favouring acquittal, the High Court should not disturb the same merely on the ground that if it were in the position of the Trial Court, it would have taken the alternative view and convicted the accused accordingly.”
44. This settled proposition of law has been reiterated by this Court in the case of Chandrappa v. State of Karnataka {2007 (4) SCC 415}. In this case, the provisions of Section 378 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1997 were critically examined. After adverting to numerous decisions of this Court, it was observed as follows: “From the above decisions, in our considered view, the following general principles regarding powers of the appellate court while dealing with an appeal against an order of acquittal emerge:
(1) An appellate court has full power to review, re-appreciate and reconsider the evidence upon which the order of acquittal is founded. 

(2) The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 puts no limitation, restriction or condition on exercise of such power and an appellate court on the evidence before it may reach its own conclusion, both on questions of fact and of law. 

(3) Various expressions, such as, “substantial and compelling reasons”, “good and sufficient grounds”, “very strong circumstances”, “distorted conclusions”, “glaring mistakes”, etc. are not intended to curtail extensive powers of an appellate court in an appeal against acquittal. Such phraseologies are more in the nature of “flourishes of language” to emphasise the reluctance of an appellate court to interfere with acquittal than to curtail the power of the court to review the evidence and to come to its own conclusion. 
(4) An appellate court, however, must bear in mind that in case of acquittal, there is double presumption in favour of the accused. Firstly, the presumption of innocence is available to him under the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved guilty by a competent court of law. Secondly, the accused having secured his acquittal, the presumption of his innocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strengthened by the Trial Court.

(5) If two reasonable conclusions are possible on the basis of the evidence on record, the appellate court should not disturb the finding of acquittal recorded by the Trial Court.”
From the above, it becomes evident that if two reasonable conclusions are possible on the basis of the evidence on record, the Appellate Court should not disturb the findings of acquittal. The acquittal reinforces and reaffirms the presumption of innocence of the accused. The High Court, in fact, makes a reference to the judgment of this Court in the case of Kali Ram v. State of H.P., (1973) 2 SCC 808, wherein this Court has observed:
“Another golden thread which runs through the web of the administration of justice in criminal cases is that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case, one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence, the view which is favourable to the accused should be adopted.” 
45. Having noticed the aforesaid principle, the High Court reviewed the entire evidence. It reached the conclusions which are opposite to the conclusions recorded by the Trial Court. We are unable to accept the opinion of the High Court that findings recorded by the Trial Court are perverse and manifestly erroneous.

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