By chandrika yenugupalli
In the supreme court Of India
|NAME OF THE CASE
|Achhar Singh vs The State Of Himachal Pradesh
|CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS. 1140 1141 OF 2010
|Hon’ble The Justice, Surya Kant
|State of Himachal Pradesh
|The Indian penal Code, The Criminal Procedure Code, The constitution Of India
|Constitution Of India- Art 20(3). The Indian penal Code-302,326,323,452,148,113. The criminal procedure code-378.
|DATE OF THE CASE
This case analysis summarizes a case involving a complaint filed by Netar Singh, where the accused persons allegedly broke into his house armed with various weapons, including axes, spears, sickles, and sticks. The complainant and other witnesses testified that Budhi Singh and Narinder Singh delivered axe blows to the head of Netar Singh’s mother, resulting in her death. The accused also attacked Netar Singh’s father, causing injuries. The witnesses provided consistent accounts of the events, and their testimonies were supported by the post-mortem report and medical examination of the injured parties. The trial court failed to correctly evaluate the evidence and reached erroneous conclusions. The High Court, on appeal, found the accused guilty based on the credible and consistent evidence presented by the prosecution witnesses, overturning the trial court’s judgment. This case analysis highlights the distinction between exaggeration and falsity in witness statements and emphasizes the court’s duty to extract the truth from evidence. It also addresses the appellate court’s authority to interfere with a trial court’s judgment when it is found to be perverse or contrary to the evidence.
The Latin legal expression “Fiat Justitia ruat Caelum,” meaning “Let justice be done though the heavens fall,” underscores the principle that justice must prevail regardless of the consequences. It emphasizes that the primary objective of a court conducting a case is not only to ensure that the innocent is not wrongfully punished but also to ensure that the guilty do not escape justice.
Evidence plays a crucial role in establishing facts and determining the outcome of a case. According to Tomlin’s Law Dictionary, evidence is defined as the means by which an inference can logically be drawn regarding the existence of a fact. This can include testimony from witnesses, written records, or other forms of documentation. In India, the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 defines evidence as encompassing all statements made by witnesses in relation to matters of fact under investigation, as well as any documents or electronic records presented to the court.
The specific question addressed in the Supreme Court’s judgment was whether exaggerated evidence by a witness should be discarded. The court analyzed the testimonies of witnesses in light of this issue. It is important to note that witnesses may sometimes provide exaggerated accounts of events, particularly in high-stakes or emotionally charged situations. However, the court distinguished between exaggerated statements and false statements, recognizing that even if the details are embellished, the core truth may still remain.
The court emphasized that it is crucial to assess the credibility and consistency of the witnesses’ statements. In the case at hand, the court found that the prosecution witnesses consistently accused the accused individual, Budhi Singh, of causing the fatal blow. This accusation was supported by the medical evidence presented in court. Despite some exaggeration in the witnesses’ accounts, the court concluded that Budhi Singh was responsible for the crime based on the consistent core facts presented.
FACTS OF THE CASE
The factual matrix in this case is that on the night of February 23, 1996, an incident took place involving the complainant, Netar Singh, his wife Meera Devi, and his mother, Swari Devi. Meera Devi and Swari Devi had attended a marriage function in a neighboring village, while Netar Singh and his family did not attend any marriage function at the house of their neighbor, Budhi Singh, due to a social boycott. When Netar Singh and his family were taking Dhaam (traditional food) at around 8 pm, Budhi Singh, Achhar Singh, and other villagers shouted for them to come out. Sensing danger, they rushed back inside and locked the door as the assailants started pelting stones at them. The attackers broke open the door and entered the house with weapons, including axes, sickles, spears, and sticks.
According to the prosecution’s case, Budhi Singh struck Swari Devi on the head with an axe, causing her immediate death. Achhar Singh allegedly hit Beli Ram, Netar Singh’s father, with an axe, causing him to faint. Netar Singh was also beaten with sticks by other villagers, but he managed to escape to the roof. Meera Devi pleaded for mercy, and the assailants eventually left, threatening to kill Netar Singh’s family if they tried to leave the house.
Some villagers intervened and called on the accused to stop the violence, forcing them to leave the scene. Later, around 2:00 AM, Netar Singh went to the house of the Gram Panchayat Pradhan to inform her about the assault. She advised him to contact the police, but since the phone lines were down and no buses were available at night, Netar Singh walked 24 kilometers to the Jogindernagar police station and lodged an FIR against sixteen villagers, including the appellants, at 9:30 AM on February 24, 1996. After the investigation, seven persons were found to be involved, and they were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The trial court acquitted all the accused, citing prior enmity and extensive litigation between the parties. The court found the possibility of false implication and held that the prosecution witnesses had exaggerated their allegations. The trial court also noted discrepancies in the accounts of the witnesses regarding the number and nature of the injuries inflicted. The delay in filing the FIR, doubts about the spot of the occurrence, and lack of evidence regarding the unavailability of telephone network in the neighboring village were considered fatal to the prosecution’s case. The trial court acquitted all the accused, giving them the benefit of doubt.
The High Court acknowledged the contradictions but found a consistent thread of evidence against the appellants. It held that the allegation of Budhi Singh delivering the first axe blow to Swari Devi’s head was corroborated by the FIR, witness testimonies, post-mortem report, and the recovery of the axe from him.
The High Court also found the allegations against Achhar Singh consistent, and medical evidence indicated that some injuries could have been caused by an axe. The High Court considered the delay in filing the FIR in light of the unavailability of buses at night and the distance between the complainant’s house and the police station. It concluded that the complainant could not have reached the police station until the next morning. The High Court rejected the trial court’s confusion regarding the spot of the occurrence, relying on evidence such as broken windowpanes, scattered articles in the room, and leftover food. It also pointed out that no marriage function could have been underway at Budhi Singh. Upon re-evaluation of the evidence, the High Court set aside the acquittal of the appellants, Achhar Singh and Budhi Singh.
ISSUES RAISED BEFORE THE COURT
- Whether the High Court while exercising its powers under Section 378 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC”) was justified in interfering with the acquittal by the trial Court?
- Whether the appellants were rightly convicted in this case by the high court?
ARGUMENTS FROM THE APPELLANT SIDE
- The learned counsel for the appellant submitted that trial court’s view should be considered sufficient as long as it is a “possible view,” and there should be no further scrutiny by the High Court under Section 378 of the CrPC. They referred to the case of Murugesan v. State to support this argument.
- The counsel stated that merely because the appellate court’s view seems more probable, the trial court’s judgment should not be set aside. The High Court should interfere only if there is perversity in the trial court’s judgment. The case of Aruvelu v. State was cited to emphasize this point.
- The counsel pointed out that trial courts, due to their proximity to the witnesses, are better positioned to judge witness credibility and make intangible observations. The counsel highlighted the tendency of prosecution witnesses to exaggerate and falsely implicate.
- The counsel highlighted that the medical evidence contradicted the testimony of eyewitnesses regarding the four head injuries to the deceased, as it showed only one head injury. This discrepancy was raised to question the credibility of the witnesses.
- The counsel further stated that nine individuals mentioned in the FIR who were let go at the charge stage as bystanders should have been included as witnesses by the prosecution. Their absence as witnesses was seen as a flaw in the prosecution’s case.
- The counsel stated that recovery of the axe from a public place, as cited in the case of Salim Akhtar v. State of UP, was used to argue that it could not be proven that Budhi Singh was in possession of the recovered weapon. The lack of conclusive presence of blood on the recovered axes, as stated in the FSL report, was also pointed out.
- It was argued that Budhi Singh had no motive to leave a marriage celebration at his house and attack his neighbors.
- The counsel further stated that doubt was cast on the actual location of the incident, as testified by ASI Jaisi Ram, who mentioned a blood trail outside the house. The acquittal of Narinder Singh, despite the recovery of an axe from him and accusations of inflicting a head injury, was also highlighted.
- The counsel also highlighted Suspicion was raised regarding the timing of the FIR, as Meera Devi mentioned that the police arrived before the FIR was lodged. The exact time of the deceased’s death was also questioned based on the disparity between witness statements and the post-mortem conducted by Dr. D.D. Rana.
- The Learned Senior Counsel for Achhar Singh reiterated similar contentions and referred to statements of eyewitnesses implicating other accused individuals in the attack. They supported the trial court’s inability to identify the specific person responsible for each individual injury.
ARGUMENTS FROM THE RESPONDENT SIDE
- The learned counsel for the respondent submitted that the FIR (First Information Report) is not considered a substantive piece of evidence. It can only be used to contradict or corroborate its maker, not other witnesses.
- The counsel also stated that credibility of witnesses should not be questioned solely based on their relationship to the deceased. The case of State of UP v. Kishan Chand was referenced to emphasize this point. Minor discrepancies or exaggerations in witness testimonies should not automatically undermine their credibility, as stated in the case of Leela Ram v. State of Haryana.
- The learned counsel further highlighted that inconsistent evidence presented by prosecution witnesses against one accused cannot be used to benefit another accused. The counsel referred to the observations made by the Supreme Court in Gangadhar Behera v. State of Orissa and Prabhu Dayal v. State of Rajasthan to support this argument.
- Indian Penal Code
302. Punishment for murder. —Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or [imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.
326. Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means—Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 335, voluntarily causes grievous hurt by means of any instrument for shooting, stabbing or cutting, or any instrument which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, or by means of fire or any heated substance, or by means of any poison or any corrosive substance, or by means of any explosive substance, or by means of any substance which it is deleterious to the human body to inhale, to swallow, or to receive into the blood, or by means of any animal, shall be punished with 1[imprisonment for life], or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
323. Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt. —Whoever, except in the case provided for by section 334, voluntarily causes hurt, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.
452. House-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint.—Whoever commits house-trespass, having made preparation for causing hurt to any person or for assaulting any person, or for wrongfully restraining any person, or for putting any person in fear of hurt, or of assault, or of wrongful restraint, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
148. Rioting, armed with deadly weapon. —Whoever is guilty of rioting, being armed with a deadly weapon or with anything which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
113. Liability of abettor for an effect caused by the act abetted different from that intended by the abettor.—When an act is abetted with the intention on the part of the abettor of causing a particular effect, and an act for which the abettor is liable in consequence of the abetment, caused a different effect from that intended by the abettor, the abettor is liable for the effect caused, in the same manner and to the same extent as if he had abetted the act with the intention of causing that effect, provided he knew that the act abetted was likely to cause that effect.
- The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
378. Appeal in case of acquittal.
(1) Save as otherwise provided in sub- section (2) and subject to the provisions of sub- sections (3) and (5), the State Government may, in any case, direct the Public Prosecutor to present an appeal to the High Court from an original or appellate order of acquittal passed by any Court other than a High Court 2 or an order of acquittal passed by the Court of Session in revision.]
(2) If such an order of acquittal is passed in any case in which the offence has been investigated by the Delhi Special Police Establishment constituted under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 (25 of 1946 ), or by any other agency empowered to make investigation into an offence under any Central Act other than this Code, the Central Government may also direct the Public Prosecutor to present an appeal, subject to the provisions of sub- section (3), to the High Court from the order of acquittal.
(3) No appeal under sub- section (1) or sub- section (2) shall be entertained except with the leave of the High Court.
(4) If such an order of acquittal is passed in any case instituted upon complaint and the High Court, on an application made to it by the complainant in this behalf, grants special leave to appeal from the order of acquittal, the complainant may present such an appeal to the High Court.
(5) No application under sub- section (4) for the grant of special leave to appeal from an order of acquittal shall be entertained by the High Court after the expiry of six months, where the complainant is a public servant, and sixty days in every other case, computed from the date of that order of acquittal.
(6) If in any case, the application under sub- section (4) for the grant of special leave to appeal from an order of acquittal is refused, no appeal from that order of acquittal shall lie under sub- section (1) or under sub- section (2).
The Constitution of India 1949
Article 20(3) No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.
The Hon’ble court in this judgement traced back to ancient legal systems. For example, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, which dates back to 1792-1750 B.C., placed the burden of proof on the accuser. This means that the accuser had the responsibility to provide evidence and establish the guilt of the accused. The principle of not interfering with the trial court’s judgment when two views are possible is well-established. However, this principle should not be stretched to limit the scope of appeal against acquittal under Section 378 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) solely to determining the possibility of the trial court’s view. It is firmly established that the High Court has the power to re-evaluate the evidence in an appeal against acquittal.
The Supreme Court of India has consistently held in various decisions, including Chandrappa v. State of Karnataka, State of Andhra Pradesh v. M. Madhusudhana Rao, and Raveen Kumar v. State of Himachal Pradesh, that the CrPC does not distinguish between appeals against convictions or acquittals in terms of power, scope, jurisdiction, or limitations. The appellate court is free to consider both the facts and the law, despite the customary restraint observed when dealing with orders of acquittal, where there is a double presumption of the accused’s innocence.
According to the complainant’s testimony, several of the accused were armed with weapons such as axes, spears, sickles, and sticks. The complainant stated that Budhi Singh gave two axe blows to the head of his mother, Narinder Singh gave two axe blows near her left ear, and as a result, his mother died on the spot. Achhar Singh and Sodha Ram also attacked his father with an axe and a drat, respectively. Hem Singh and Jai Singh assaulted the complainant with blows from a stick.
The daughter-in-law of the deceased also testified, confirming that Budhi Singh and Narinder Singh had axes, Prakash had a spear, and Sodha Ram had a sickle. She mentioned that Budhi Singh struck her mother-in-law on the head with the axe, causing her death. Narinder Singh hit her mother-in-law’s ear with an axe blow. She further stated that Narinder Singh also struck her father-in-law, Beli Ram, on the face with the blunt side of the axe, while Achhar Singh attacked him with an axe blow to the neck. Jai Singh and Hem Singh assaulted her husband, Netar Singh, with blows from a stick.
Beli Ram, an injured witness, confirmed that Budhi Singh, Narinder Singh, and Achhar Singh were armed with axes, while Prakash had a spear, Sodha Ram had a sickle, and Jai Singh and Hem Singh had sticks. He mentioned that Budhi Singh delivered two axe blows to his wife’s head, resulting in her death. Narinder Singh struck near his wife’s ear with an axe, and Achhar Singh attacked Beli Ram on the back of his head. Sodha Ram hit Beli Ram’s leg with a drat, and Jai Singh and Hem Singh assaulted his son, Netar Singh, with blows from a stick and stones.
Dr. DD Rana, who conducted the post-mortem and medical examination, testified that he found an incised wound on the left temporal region of the deceased, which could have been caused by the axe shown in court. He also found incised wounds on Beli Ram’s face and back of the skull, a lacerated wound on his right foot, a facial bone fracture, and a black eye. The doctor stated that the incised wounds were possible from the axe and the other injuries could be from stick blows or falling on a hard surface.
Based on the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses and the medical evidence, it is clear that Budhi Singh caused the fatal injury to Swari Devi, the deceased, with an axe blow to her head. The witnesses consistently accused Budhi Singh of committing the murder, and their statements are supported by the medical evidence. Therefore, the trial court’s confusion regarding the identity of the person who caused the fatal injury was unwarranted.
The Hon’ble court emphasized the distinction between an exaggerated statement and a false statement. While the witnesses may have provided exaggerated accounts of the injuries, the core truth remained that Budhi Singh caused the fatal blow to Swari Devi. It is concluded that the trial court erred in discounting the credible and consistent evidence presented by the prosecution witnesses.
Regarding the argument that an appellate court should not overturn a trial court’s judgment unless it is perverse, the court noted that the trial court had overlooked relevant evidence and arrived at incorrect conclusions. The high court is justified in reversing the trial court’s judgment in such circumstances.
The defense argued that the recovery of the axe from a public place undermined its connection to Budhi Singh and questioned the recovery of an axe from Narinder Singh. However, the court found sufficient evidence and credible testimonies that established the accused persons’ involvement in the crime. The defense’s contention that the prosecution witnesses’ statements were inconsistent and unbelievable was dismissed by the court, which considered the overall evidence and the consistent claim that Budhi Singh was responsible for the fatal blow.
The supreme court examined the testimonies of the complainant, witnesses, and the medical evidence. It is concluded that Budhi Singh caused the fatal injury to Swari Devi, and the trial court’s judgment was unsustainable due to its failure to consider the credible and consistent evidence. Therefore, the high court reversed the trial court’s judgment, finding it to be perverse and contrary to the evidence presented.
For the above stated reasons, the appeals are dismissed. Achhar Singh’s conviction under Sections 452, 326 and 323 IPC and Budhi Singh’s conviction under Sections 302 and 452 IPC by the High Court are maintained. Their bail bonds are cancelled and they are directed to undergo the remainder of their sentence.
Appellate courts have adopted a self-restraint approach when considering cases where two reasonable viewpoints emerge. In such situations, the court tends to favor the interpretation that benefits the accused while preserving the trial court’s close proximity to witnesses and direct interaction with testimony. The court avoids interference unless there is evidence of perversity in the decision-making process.
The principle that the High Court should not interfere with the trial court’s decision if two reasonable views exist is well-established. However, this principle does not restrict the scope of an appeal against an acquittal under Section 378 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to solely determining the irrationality of the trial court’s view.
Based on a comprehensive examination of the trial court and high court records, the Supreme Court concluded that the high court was justified in intervening to rectify the trial court’s erroneous conclusions and prevent a miscarriage of justice. The high court effectively separated valid evidence from irrelevant aspects, leading to the conviction of the appellants.
In my opinion the court in this case correctly stated that a court of law, recognizing this distinction, has the duty to distinguish “truth” from “falsehood” and separate relevant evidence from irrelevant elements in cases involving exaggerations. Only when the truth and falsehood are so intertwined that no genuine evidence survives their separation can the entirety of the evidence be dismissed. Consequently, witness testimony cannot be entirely disregarded on the grounds of exaggeration.
 2nd year Law student at NLU Visakhapatnam.
 Appeal (crl.) 29 of 1999
 Appeal (crl.) 297 of 1992
 The Indian Penal Code,1860, S302.
 The Indian Penal Code,1860, S326.
 The Indian Penal Code,1860, S323.
 The Indian Penal Code,1860, S452.
 The Indian Penal Code,1860, S148.
 The Indian Penal Code,1860, S113.
 The Code of Criminal Procedure Code,1973, S378
 The constitution of India,1949, Art.20(3).