The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SC bench caution on acquittals

New Delhi, Aug. 25 (PTI): In a warning to all high courts, the Supreme Court has said wrong acquittals, brought about by overlooking evidence, would undermine people’s confidence in the criminal justice system and they would be inclined to settle scores on the street using muscle power.

“It must be borne in mind that the criminal justice system must be alive to the expectation of the people. The principle that no innocent man should be punished is equally applicable that no guilty man should be allowed to go unpunished,” a bench of Justices Y.K. Sabharwal and H.K. Sema said.

Upholding the conviction of N. Venkiah on charges of murder, though the other six accused were acquitted by Andhra Pradesh High Court, the apex court held that the high court had “wrongly” acquitted the six.

It, however, could not send the six acquitted to jail as the state had not filed an appeal against their vindication.

“Wrong acquittal of the accused will send a wrong signal to the society. Wrong acquittal has its chain reactions: the law breakers would continue to break the law with impunity, people then would lose confidence in the criminal justice system and would tend to settle their score on the street by exercising muscle power and, if such situation is allowed to happen, woe would be the rule of law,” said Justice Sema, writing for the bench.

Venkiah was convicted for the murder of Venkateswarulu. On October 13, 1992, the latter was attacked with bombs and other weapons by 16 assailants who severed his head. The trial court found six of the accused guilty of murder and four others on charges under the Explosive Substances Act.

The high court acquitted all the accused, except Venkiah, disbelieving the accounts of eyewitnesses on the ground that they were inimical to the accused. Venkiah appealed against his conviction before the apex court.

“The witnesses are inimically disposed to the accused alone would be no ground to throw away their otherwise reliable, natural and credit-worthy statement,” Justice Sema said.

“The test, in such circumstances, as correctly adopted by the trial court, is that if the witnesses are interested, the same must be scrutinised with due care and caution in the light of medical evidence and other surrounding circumstances.”

The apex court said what was apparent from the case was that the acquittal of the six accused recorded by the high court was clearly contrary to the evidence on record and was on the basis of misappreciation of eye-witness account.

“It is unfortunate that acquittal appeals are not before us,” the bench said, adding that the high court’s acquittal of the six accused would not affect Venkiah’s conviction under Section 302.

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