Section 313 of CrPC Confers Right to Fair Trial to Accused u/Article 21- Supreme Court

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November 28, 2018

Case name: Reena Hazarika v. State of Assam

The Appellant in the case is the wife of deceased. The Appellant was convicted under Section 302 of Indian Penal Code for the murder of deceased. In view of the facts and circumstances of the case, the Trial Court and the High Court held that the present was a case of circumstantial evidence and that the last seen theory establishes presence of the appellant with the deceased at night.

The Appellant has contended that the links in the chain of circumstances did not establish the guilt of the accused however the State emphasized that the appellant   has   failed   to   offer   any explanation of the circumstances as to how the death occurred and one of the witness also noticed appellant’s unnatural conduct in not even weeping on the death of her husband.

Bench’s Verdict

The Supreme Court Bench in the case threw light on various essential aspects of criminal jurisprudence as under:

  • The Supreme Court Bench noted that normally the Apex Court under Article 136 of the Constitution would be reluctant in appeal to interfere with the concurrent findings of two Courts by re-appreciating the facts and evidence, but in an appropriate   case, if   the   court   finds   that   there   has   been erroneous consideration and appreciation of facts and evidence leading to miscarriage of justice, then the Supreme Court is duty bound to ensure that ultimately justice prevails.
  • The Apex Court also reiterated the well-established principle of criminal jurisprudence that several accused may go free but an innocent person should not be punished[1].
  • Essentials of Circumstantial Evidence- The Apex Court observed that in a case of circumstantial evidence the prosecution is required to establish the continuity in the links of the chain of circumstances, so as to lead to the only and inescapable conclusion of the accused being the assailant, inconsistent or incompatible with the possibility of any other hypothesis compatible with the innocence of the accused.
  • That the mere invocation of the last seen theory, sans the facts and evidence in a case will not suffice to shift the onus upon the accused under Section 106 of the Evidence Act unless the prosecution first establishes a prima facie case,
  • If the links in the chain of circumstances itself are not complete, and the prosecution is unable to establish a prima facie case, leaving open the possibility that the occurrence may have taken place in some other manner, the onus will not shift to the accused and the benefit of doubt will have to be given.
  • In view of the facts of the case, the Supreme Court also noted that the appellant did not have the benefit of lawyer of her choice and that she had to be provided legal assistance by the Legal Services Authority.
  • Right of Accused under Section 313 of CrPC- In view of the facts and circumstances prevailing in the case, the Supreme Court also threw light on the law pertaining to Section 313 of CrPC (Power to examine the accused). The Apex Court was of the view that Section 313, Cr.P.C. cannot be seen simply as a part of audi alteram partem. It confers a valuable right upon an accused to establish his innocence and can well be considered beyond a statutory right as a Constitutional right to fair trial under Article 21 of the Constitution.

In view of the facts and evidence available on record, the Supreme Court ruled in the case that the links in the chain of circumstances, cannot be said to have been established leading to the inescapable conclusion that the appellant was the assailant of the deceased and that the possibility that the occurrence may have taken place in   some   other   manner   cannot be completely ruled out. Thus, the Appellant was acquitted in the benefit of doubt.

The entire case can be accessed here.

[1] Anant Chintaman Lagu v. State of Bombay,  (1960) 2 SCR 460