SC: Change in law during pendency of case aptly indicates societal opinion

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 7th November 2019, in the matter of Manoharan v. State by Inspector of Police, Variety Hall Police Station, Coimbatore pronounced that whilst awarding sentence of death, the opinion of the society, not the personal opinion of the judge should be considered and a change in law during pendency of the case is an apt indicator of societal opinion as legislated by elected representatives.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

It is, therefore, to be kept in mind that the scope of a Review is more constrained than that of an appeal. A party cannot be allowed to reurge the case on merits to effectively seek re-appreciation of evidence when the matter has already been decided earlier, even if on different grounds. Interference in the earlier judgement assailed in a Review is permissible only on the basis of an error apparent on the face of record or discovery of important new evidence which has a direct bearing on the ultimate outcome of the case and if not well appreciated, would cause manifest injustice. (Para 20)

On a conjoint reading of the confessional scheme comprising of Sections 163, 164 CrPC and Section 24 IEA , it is obvious that even in the absence of an express provision for retracting a confessionary statement once made, the Courts have preferred a rule of prudence whereby in case of retraction, the Court reduces the probative value of such confessionary statements and seeks corroborating evidence. (Para 23)

Hence, the cornerstone of a valid confession in India is only whether such a statement was made in compliance with statutory provisions which mandate that the same must be before the Magistrate after compliance with certain safeguards meant to ensure voluntariness and lack of coercion by the police. (Para 24)

The Magistrate must satisfy himself of the voluntariness of the statement and all the statutory safeguards which includes bringing the repercussions and the voluntariness of making confessions to the knowledge of the accused, must be meticulously complied with. (Para 40)

Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure thus does not contemplate that a confession or statement should necessarily be made in the presence of the advocate(s), except, when such confessional statement is recorded with audio-video electronic means. (Para 41)

In order to uphold the guarantee under Article 21 and to reduce arbitrariness caused by discretion of judges in sentencing, it should be the opinion of the society and not the personal opinion of the judge which should be considered whilst awarding sentence of death. Towards the same, a change in law during pendency of the case is an apt indicator of societal opinion as legislated by elected representatives. (Para 57)

Dissenting opinions have little precedential value and that there is no difference in operation between decisions rendered unanimously or those tendered by majority, albeit with minority dissenting views. (Para 60)

There can be no hard rule of not awarding death in cases based on circumstantial evidence owing to recent developments in medical science and the possibility of abuse by seasoned criminals. (Para 62)

Even observed devoid of any aggravating circumstances, mere young age and presence of aged parents cannot be grounds for commutation. One may view that such young age poses a continuous burden on the State and presents a longer risk to society, hence warranting more serious intervention by Courts. (Para 65)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_07-Nov-2019

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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