~ SHUBHAM PHOPHALIA


 CASE NAME  SIDHARTHA VASHISHTHA @ MANU SHARMA v. STATE (NCT OF DELHI)
 CASE NO.  CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 179/2007 with 157/2007 & 224/2007
 PETITIONER’S ADV.  PAREKH & CO.
 RESPONDENT’S ADV.  NIKHIL NAYYAR
 BENCH  P. SATHASIVAM & SWATANTER KUMAR, JJ.
 JUDGEMENT BY  P. SATHASIVAM, J.
 FULL JUDGEMENT  CLICK HERE
 PRINCIPLE  CONCEPT OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE

Facts:

Jessica lal was a model in New Delhi and was working as a celebrity barkeep when she met her demise on 29th April 1999.

The bar was scheduled to be closed at midnight and even though the last call was made, a certain Manu Sharma along with his friends demanded another round. He was ready to offer Rs 1000 but she denied. Then, the inebriated and enraged Manu shot twice, and one of the bullets thereby hit Jessica. He left the place along with his three friends; two of them named Khanna and Gill were arrested later. The third accomplice, Yadav was freed on bail, however, Manu Sharma was charged with Murder on 3rd August 1999 on the grounds of destructing evidences and other offences. The other three were charged with lesser offences.

Trial:

The initial trial began in August 1999. By the end of hearings, four of the main witnesses who said they were present on that day, turned hostile by retracting their initial statements. After extensive testimonies of dozens of witnesses, all nine suspects, including Manu Sharma were acquitted in the lower courts on February 21, 2006. The decision was largely based on the Judge’s reasoning that the police had failed to find the weapon that was used to kill Jessica and to gather enough evidence to support the claim that the two cartridges recovered from the crime scene were fired from the same weapon.

With the growing pressure from the public, the higher courts of New Delhi admitted a police appeal on March 26, 2006, only a month after the acquittal. It was not a retrial, but an appeal based on evidence already marshalled by the lower courts mainly due to a re-examination of the bullet casings found at the scene.

In December, the courts held Manu Sharma guilty based on existing evidence, based on two spent cartridges recovered from Sharma’s car. The ballistic analysis for one of the bullets matched the bullet recovered from Lal’s skull.

Sharma was punished with life imprisonment and fine whereas other three were fined and given four years imprisonment.  Parole was granted to Sharma for 30 days in 2009 to attend his sick mother and family business.

Meanwhile, on 19th April 2010, Supreme Court confirmed the sentence given by High Court.

Main Arguments Advanced

  • Trial Court acquitted them because Delhi Police failed to sustain grounds and linked the chains on which they built their case.
  • High Court Judgment said that Trial Court failed in considering the testimony of witnesses such as Bina Ramani and Deepak Bhojwani whereas Sharma’s lawyer said that said judgment was wrong in holding Bina Ramani as a witness.
  • Senior advocate, Ram Jethmalani, said that Media had conducted the campaign to vilify his client but SC though accepting that there was an element of “Trial by Media”, but facts, witnesses and pieces of evidence were sufficient to prove that Sharma was guilty.

Law Applied:

The concept of circumstantial evidence had a formidable application to the facts of the case.

Peter Murphy defines it as “evidence from which the desired conclusion may be drawn but which requires the tribunal of fact not only to accept the evidence presented but also draw an inference from it.”

The Apex Court upheld the judgment of the Delhi High Court and the Bench comprising of Justices P. Sathasivam and B. Swatenter Kumar and held that the presence of the accused at the scene of the crime had been proved through the ocular testimonies of several witnesses. The circumstantial evidence connecting the vehicles and cartridges used at the site of the crime to Manu Sharma as well as his conduct after the incident proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

This law was also explained in Bodh raj v State of Jammu and Kashmir AIR 2002 SC 316.

Present Validity/ Current Status

Though this law holds good but at the same time is highly debatable and has had some fundamental travesties of the rule of law. In this case, what ought to matter is that whether necessary evidences exist in proper form or not and whether by the application of the said laws, whether this individual is liable for murder or not?

The fact that NDTV and others crowed that people’s power that they orchestrated made a difference to the outcome is a testament to judicial failure, not a success.

Justice through the rule of law is meant to offer protection to defendants from vagaries of popular sentiment. When judges began to respond to the public furore, to alter their knowledge and case outcome, it suggests that this protectable shield becomes a shield that is a detriment to the achievement of justice.

Delhi High Court granted 18 days parole to him this year (2017) in January to pursue his LLB course and get his marriage registered and has been given parole six times since September, 2009.

Conclusion:

The Jessica Lal case reveals several key aspects of the social legal status quo of India. The first is its media and the way that social, news and film media influenced the outcome of the case. Jessica Lal would only be a young woman who died brutally and tragically if it was not for the publicity her case received. Instead of falling into obscurity, this minor actress and model became a symbol for the nation, something to represent the often suppressed frustrations of the public.

The second observation reveals the prolonged struggle against gender violence and the continually evolving views of women and their place in Indian society.

The third aspect takes into account the difficult situation the current justice system finds itself and also shows the progress that India has made to try to improve its justice system.

The legacy of distrust and intimidation has created a challenging obstacle for India to overcome in order to promote a society that not only is protected in practice but feels protected.


About the AuthorShubham is a 2nd-year B.A.LL.B student at Gujarat National Law University and he is also pursuing CS EXECUTIVE.


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