Courts have a solemn duty to “separate the grain from the chaff” and guard against cursory consideration of the defence of an accused, the Supreme Court said on Thursday while acquitting a man in an attempt to murder case which the defence claimed was based entirely on the testimony of the complainant and “hearsay evidence” of his mother.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana set aside the conviction and sentence of appellant Jai Prakash Tiwari challenging the May 2017 verdict of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which had dismissed his appeal against the trial court order holding him guilty in an attempt to murder case.
The bench, also comprising Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli, observed the prosecution’s case was based on “mere conjectures and surmises”, and the evidence put forth by the accused was dealt with by the court in a casual manner.
Observing that it is the “duty of the court to separate the grain from the chaff and to extract truth from the mass of evidence”, the apex court said the purpose of section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) is to provide the accused a reasonable opportunity to explain the adverse circumstances which may have emerged against him during the course of trial.
Section 313 of the CrPC deals with power to examine the accused.
The bench said the case against Jai Prakash Tiwari cannot be sustained in the absence of independent evidence corroborating the statements made by complainant. It said the plausible version put forward by the appellant in his section 313 statement has not been satisfactorily responded to by the prosecution.
“The evidence brought on record by the prosecution is insufficient to prove the case against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt,” it said while allowing the appeal.
According to the prosecution, on February 14, 2003, the appellant and a co-accused went to the complainant’s house and called him outside.
It was alleged that the appellant fired at the complainant with a country-made pistol and fled.
The appellant and co-accused were charged under section 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the Arms Act.
The trial court convicted and sentenced the appellant while the co-accused was acquitted.
During the arguments before the apex court, the counsel appearing for the appellant contended the entire case of the prosecution was based on the testimony of the complainant and the “hearsay evidence” of his mother.
The bench observed it is an established principle of law that a close relative cannot automatically be characterised as an “interested” witness.
The apex court also noted that in his section 313 statement the appellant had said he and the complainant belonged to rival student factions and he was falsely implicated in the case owing to the animosity prevailing during an election.
In its order the apex court said it is the solemn duty of courts to consider the defence of the accused with caution and adequate application of mind.
“The reasoning and the application of mind must be reflected in writing. However, from the observations extracted above it is clear that the courts below have failed to undertake this solemn duty,” it said.
Expounding on section 313 of the CrPC, the bench observed that a reasonable opportunity entails putting all the adverse evidence in the form of questions so as to give an opportunity to the accused to articulate his defence and give his explanation.
“If all the circumstances are bundled together and a single opportunity is provided to the accused to explain himself, he may not (be) able to put forth a rational and intelligible explanation. Such exercises which defeat fair opportunity are nothing but empty formality,” it said.
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