SC: Acquittal by lower court strengthens presumption of innocence

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 04th December, 2018, in the matter of Mohd. Akhtar @ Kari & Ors. v. State of Bihar & Anr. pronounced that an appellate court cannot interfere with an order of acquittal on the ground that a different view is possible. It was also observed that an order of acquittal by the lower court strengthens the presumption of innocence in favour of the accused.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

Interference with an order of acquittal is not permissible on the ground that a different view is possible. (Para 12)

If the acquittal is justified on a probable view taken by the trial court, it should not be interfered with. (Para 12)

The presumption of innocence in favour of the Appellants is further strengthened by an order of acquittal. (Para 12)

The Hon’ble Apex Court while passing the judgement also referred to its decision in Ghurey Lal v. State of Uttar Pradesh [(2008) 10 SCC 450] wherein, the principles to be followed by the appellate courts to overrule or otherwise disturb the trial court’s acquittal were crystallised as under in Para 70 of that judgement:

1. The appellate court may only overrule or otherwise disturb the trial court’s acquittal if it has “very substantial and compelling reasons” for doing so. A number of instances arise in which the appellate court would have “very substantial and compelling reasons” to discard the trial court’s decision. “Very substantial and compelling reasons” exist when:

(i)   The trial court’s conclusion with regard to the facts is palpably wrong;

(ii)  The trial court’s decision was based on an erroneous view of law;

(iii) The trial court’s judgment is likely to result in “grave miscarriage of justice”;

(iv) The entire approach of the trial court in dealing with the evidence was patently illegal;

(v)  The trial court’s judgment was manifestly unjust and unreasonable;

(vi) The trial court has ignored the evidence or misread the material evidence or has ignored material documents like dying declarations/report of the ballistic expert, etc.

(vii) This list is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive.

2. The appellate court must always give proper weight and consideration to the findings of the trial court.

3. If two reasonable views can be reached—one that leads to acquittal, the other to conviction—the High Courts/appellate courts must rule in favour of the accused.”

Copy of judgement: Judgement 04-Dec-2018

-Tushar Kaushik

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