A two-judge Bench of Justice SK Kaul and Justice MM Sundresh has held that it should be appreciated if a Trial Court decides a case on its own merit despite its sensitivity, while reversing an order of the High Court in appeal under Section Section 378 CrPC and upholding the order of acquittal by the Trial Court.

The Court held that an Appellate Court while exercising power under Section 384 CrPC shall not expect a Trial Court to act in a particular way depending upon the sensitivity of a case.

Advocates Devasa & Co. appeared for the Appellants-Accused while Advocate V. N. Raghupathy appeared for the State before the Court.

The Supreme Court was hearing an appeal assailing the impugned judgment of the High Court which had reversed the judgment of the Trial Court and convicted the Appellants-Accused who were accused of murdering a police officer.

In this case, both the accused carried three weapons, waylaid the deceased at a signal in the main road, and after the initial attack, dragged him to the pavement, and thereafter inflicted multiple injuries.

The Trial Court had acquitted the accused after considering all the materials including most of the witnesses who turned hostile. The Court had given benefit of doubt to the accused and passed acquittal orders.

Aggrieved, the State filed an appeal before the High Court. The High Court did not consider the entire evidence as discussed by the Trial Court. Nonetheless, it reversed the order of acquittal and convicted the Appellants for life.

The Appellants contended before the Supreme Court that when the Trial Court had the advantage of seeing the witnesses in person during their deposition gave its verdict, it could not have been set aside through a cryptic order of the High Court without adequate discussion. It was further argued that the High Court ought not to have reversed the decision on the basis of the so-called dying declaration.

While the State was in favor of the judgment passed by the High Court convicting the Appellant-Accused for life.

The Apex Court gave the following observations –

i) Presumption of Innocence

In this context, the Court held –

"Section 378 CrPC enables the State to prefer an appeal against an order of acquittal. Section 384 CrPC speaks of the powers that can be exercised by the Appellate Court. When the trial court renders its decision by acquitting the accused, presumption of innocence gathers strength before the Appellate Court. As a consequence, the onus on the prosecution becomes more burdensome as there is a double presumption of innocence."

Further, the Bench held, "The Appellate Court is expected to involve itself in a deeper, studied scrutiny of not only the evidence before it, but is duty bound to satisfy itself whether the decision of the trial court is both possible and plausible view. When two views are possible, the one taken by the trial court in a case of acquittal is to be followed on the touchstone of liberty along with the advantage of having seen the witnesses."

ii) Trial Court is not expected to act in a particular way depending upon the sensitivity of the case

"Every case has its own journey towards the truth and it is the Court's role undertake. Truth has to be found on the basis of evidence available before it. There is no room for subjectivity nor the nature of offence affects its performance. We have a hierarchy of courts in dealing with cases. An Appellate Court shall not expect the trial court to act in a particular way depending upon the sensitivity of the case. Rather it should be appreciated if a trial court decides a case on its own merit despite its sensitivity," the Court observed.

iii) Indictment and Condemnation to be avoided over a decision rendered

The High Court had remarked that the Trial Court had no idea of the concept of dying declaration and the principle governing it.

In the context, the Bench observed, "The district judiciary is expected to be the foundational court, and therefore, should have the freedom of mind to decide a case on its own merit or else it might become a stereotyped one rendering conviction on a moral platform. Indictment and condemnation over a decision rendered, on considering all the materials placed before it, should be avoided. The Appellate Court is expected to maintain a degree of caution before making any remark."

The Court further added that the Trial Court took enormous pains in considering the evidence of all witnesses one by one.

Furthermore, the Bench opined that on motive, it was correctly analyzed that there was nothing to implicate the accused with a motive to murder the deceased.

The Court also noted that the High Court did not undertake the exercise as mandated under Section 378 read with Section 384 CrPC in reversing the decision rendered by the Trial Court.

In the light of these observations, the Court allowed the appeals and orders of conviction passed by the High Court were set aside.

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