A three-judge Bench of CJI NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant, and Justice AS Bopanna while upholding the conviction of the Appellant-Accused under Section 307 of the IPC has held that the failure to establish motive is not fatal to the prosecution.
While acquitting the Appellant-Accused under Section 27 of the Arms Act, the Court held that illegal use of licensed or sanctioned weapon per se does not constitute an offence under Section 27, without proving the misdemeanor under Section 5 or Section 7 of the Arms Act.
Further, the Court held, "At best, it could be'misconduct' under the service rules, the determination of which was not the subject of the trial."
An appeal was preferred by the Appellant-Accused before the Supreme Court assailing the judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which had upheld the order and conviction passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, Chandigarh. The Appellant-Accused was charged under Section 307 of IPC and Section 27 of the Arms Act. He was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 3 years for both offences.
In this case, the Complainant, Mansur Ali, Advocate was working at his residential office when the Appellant-Accused, a Head Constable of Police, entered the premises in an inebriated condition and stated that he was a beat officer of the lane, asked for a glass of water. After which, he pulled out his pistol and threatened the Complainant. This was followed by the Appellant attempting to fire towards the Complainant; however, the latter was saved and did not sustain any injury.
The Appellant-Accused was arrested and was charged under Section 307 IPC and Section 27 of the Arms Act.
The case when went before the Trial Court, the Court found the version of Defense's side was a patch of lies and figment of imagination. The Court further observed that the Appellant had used his pistol without any prior permission and for illegal purposes.
The Appellant-Accused contended the following before the Supreme Court –
i) There was an absence of 'motive' on behalf of the Appellant to kill the Complainant;
ii) There was an absence of intent, which could not be imputed from the conduct of the Appellant;
iii) Statements of the eyewitnesses suffered from material contradictions, fatal to the case of the prosecution; and
iv) Conviction under Section 27 of the Arms Act was not sustainable as the weapon used by the Appellant was licensed and misuse of a licensed weapon is not mischief under Section 5 of the Arms Act.
The issues which were dealt with by the Court were –
- Whether the High Court erred in maintaining the conviction of the Appellant under Section 307 IPC?
- Whether conviction of the Appellant under Section 27 of the Arms Act is sustainable?
Conviction of Appellant under Section 307 IPC
The Apex Court observed, "The manner in which occurrence took place may enlighten more than the prudential escape of a victim. It is thus not necessary that a victim shall have to suffer an injury dangerous to his life, for attracting Section 307 IPC."
"Motive is infallibly a crucial factor, and is a substantial aid for evincing the commission of an offence but the absence thereof is, however, not such a quintessential component which can be construed as fatal to the case of the prosecution, especially when all other factors point towards the guilt of the accused and testaments of eyewitnesses to the occurrence of a malfeasance are on record," the Bench opined.
Additionally, the Court held that the plea raised by the Appellant was devoid of any merit. The Court further held that no doubt the Prosecution had failed to attribute any motive to the Appellant for yearning to kill the Complainant, however, the absence of motive alone cannot abjure the guilt of the Appellant-Accused.
Further, the Court was in agreement with the findings of the Trial Court and High Court that the conduct of the Appellant was sufficient to surmise that his actions were intended to eliminate the Complainant and that his conviction under Section 307 IPC was justified.
Conviction under Section 27 of Arms Act
The Court held that the Trial Court had erred in arriving at the culpability of the Appellant-Accused under Section 27 by holding that he had used the weapon for illegal use.
Furthermore, the Bench noted that Section 27 of the Act was strictly confined to violation of conditions mentioned either under Section 5 or Section 7 of the Arms Act. 'Unlawful Purpose' of using arms and ammunitions was no longer an inseparable component of the delinquency.
"The Appellant was admittedly a police official at the time of the incidence and the arms and ammunitions used for the commission of the offence, were placed in his possession under the sanction accorded by the Competent Authority," observed the Court.
Further, the Bench opined, "The Appellant being in authorized possession of the weapon, cannot be said to have used an unlicensed weapon, as prohibited under Section 5 of the Arms Act."
"Trial Court was swayed by irrelevant considerations such as illegal use of the weapon, and lost track of the objective of the Statute, which has been enacted to provide a licensing/regulatory regime, to enable lawabiding citizens to carry arms, and also to prohibit the possession, acquisition, manufacture, etc. of certain categories of firearms, unless authorized by the Central Government," the Court noted.
The Court acquitted the Appellant-Accused under Section 27 of the Arms Act by holding such a conviction to be unwarranted and unjust.
Quantum of Sentence under Section 307 IPC
The Bench observed that it was the duty of the Courts to see that a just and fair sentence is awarded.
Further the Court while analyzing various mitigating factors, held, "The sentence awarded to the appellant is no longer in degree to the crime which he has committed. Remitting the Appellant to the rigors of imprisonment at this juncture of his life would not serve the ends of justice."
In the light of these observations, the Court partly allowed the appeal, upheld the conviction of the Appellant under Section 307 IPC, however, the Court reduced the sentence awarded to the Appellant to the period already undergone by him and set aside the conviction under Section 27 of the Arms Act.