S 374(2) CrPC – Appeal Against Conviction Cannot Be Dismissed On Ground That Accused Is Absconding - Supreme Court
A Supreme Court Bench of Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice MM Sundresh has held that an Appeal against conviction filed by an Accused under Section 374(2) of the CrPC cannot be dismissed on the ground that the Accused is absconding.
To that end, it was held that "The anguish expressed by the Division Bench about the brazen action of the appellant of absconding and defeating the administration of justice can be well understood. However, that is no ground to dismiss an appeal against conviction, which was already admitted for final hearing, for non-prosecution without adverting to merits. Therefore, the impugned judgment will have to be set aside and the appeal will have to be remanded to the High Court for consideration on merits."
In this case, the Appellant was convicted for offences punishable under Sections 302 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 27(1) of the Arms Act, 1959 in a Sessions Trial. The maximum substantive sentence was life imprisonment.
The Appellant preferred an Appeal before the High Court for suspension of sentence. However, When the application for suspension of sentence filed by the Appellant came up before a Division Bench of the High Court, it was brought to the notice of the Court that the Appellant was absconding.
The High Court dismissed the Appeal without adverting to the merits of the Appeal on the ground that the Appellant was absconding. The Bench had held that though the remedy of an Appeal is a valuable right, the Appellant forfeited his right to prefer an appeal the moment he escaped from custody and flagrantly abused the process of law.
The Supreme Court noted that several judgments that the High Court had relied upon were not applicable to the present case. Further, it opined that the action of absconding is not a ground for dismissing an Appeal against a conviction that was already admitted for final hearing, for non-prosecution without adverting to merits.
Further, commenting on the necessity for expeditious disposal of the matter, the Supreme Court said that "Considering the fact that the appeal against conviction under Section 302 of IPC is of the year 2009, necessary priority deserves to be given to the disposal of the appeal. We, therefore, request the High Court to ensure that appeal is disposed of as expeditiously as possible, preferably within a period of six months from today."
Furthermore, the Supreme Court also held that if the Appeal was not heard within a period of six months, it will be open to the Appellant to apply for suspension of the sentence before the High Court.