In Joginder Singh v. State of Haryana1 it was held, after referring to Sheo Swarup v. King Emperor2 that the High Court can exercise the power or jurisdiction to reverse an order of acquittal in cases where it finds that the lower court has “obstinately blundered” or has “through incompetence, stupidity or perversity” reached such “distorted conclusions as to produce a positive miscarriage of justice” or has in some other way so conducted or misconducted himself as to produce a glaring miscarriage of justice or has been tricked by the defence so as to produce a similar result.
The apex court, in Shyamal Saha & Anr v. State of West Bengal3, said that unfortunately, the paraphrasing of the concerned passage from Sheo Swarup (in Joginder Singh v. State of Haryana) gave an impression that the High Court can reverse an acquittal by a lower court only in limited circumstances. So, the Supreme court in Shyamal Saha & Anr v. State of West Bengal referred to the original passage in Sheo Swarup which read-
“There is in their opinion no foundation for the view, apparently supported by the judgments of some Courts in India, that the High Court has no power or jurisdiction to reverse an order of acquittal on a matter of fact, except in cases in which the lower Court has “obstinately blundered,” or has “through incompetence, stupidity or perversity” reached such “distorted conclusions as to produce a positive miscarriage of justice,” or has in some other way so conducted itself as to produce a glaring miscarriage of justice, or has been tricked by the defence so as to produce a similar result.”
For the interpretation of this passage, the supreme court in Shyamal Saha & Anr v. State of West Bengal relied on Nur Mohammad v. Emperor4 – “Their Lordships do not think it necessary to read it all again, but would like to observe that there really is only one principle, in the strict use of the word, laid down there; that is, that the High Court has full power to review at large all the evidence upon which the order of acquittal was founded, and to reach the conclusion that upon that evidence the order of acquittal should be reversed.”
The entire case law on the subject (appellate court’s power to review evidence) was discussed in Chandrappa v. State of Karnataka5 [Hereinafter mentioned as Chandrappa]
»»An appellate court has full power to review, reappreciate and reconsider the evidence upon which the order of acquittal is founded.
»»The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 puts no limitation, restriction or condition on exercise of such power and an appellate court on the evidence before it may reach its own conclusion, both on questions of fact and of law
»»Various expressions, such as, ‘substantial and compelling reasons’, ‘good and sufficient grounds’, ‘very strong circumstances’, ‘distorted conclusions’, ‘glaring mistakes’, etc. are not intended to curtail extensive powers of an appellate court in an appeal against acquittal. Such phraseologies are more in the nature of ‘flourishes of language’ to emphasise the reluctance of an appellate court to interfere with acquittal than to curtail the power of the court to review the evidence and to come to its own conclusion.
»»An appellate court, however, must bear in mind that in case of acquittal, there is a double presumption in favour of the accused. Firstly, the presumption of innocence is available to him under the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved guilty by a competent court of law. Secondly, the accused having secured his acquittal, the presumption of his innocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strengthened by the trial court.
»»If two reasonable conclusions are possible on the basis of the evidence on record, the appellate court should not disturb the finding of acquittal recorded by the trial court
The principles laid down in Chandrappa were generally reiterated but mainly reformulated in Ganpat v. State of Haryana6 [hereinafter mentioned as Ganpat] though without reference to Chandrappa and by referring to decisions not considered therein. The reformulation of the principles in Ganpat is as follows:
»»There is no limitation on the part of the appellate court to review the evidence upon which the order of acquittal is founded and to come to its own conclusion.
»»The appellate court can also review the trial court’s conclusion with respect to both facts and law.
»»While dealing with the appeal preferred by the State, it is the duty of the appellate court to marshal the entire evidence on record and by giving cogent and adequate reasons may set aside the judgment of acquittal.
»»An order of acquittal is to be interfered with only when there are “compelling and substantial reasons” for doing so. If the order is “clearly unreasonable”, it is a compelling reason for interference.
»»When the trial court has ignored the evidence or misread the material evidence or has ignored material documents like dying declaration/report of ballistic experts, etc. the appellate court is competent to reverse the decision of the trial court depending on the materials placed.
From the principles laid down, it appears at first blush that the High Court is entitled to virtually step into the shoes of the Trial Court hearing submissions of learned counsel and then decide the case as a court of first instance. Perhaps this is not what is intended, notwithstanding the broad language used in Chandrappa and Ganpat.
Otherwise, the decision of the Trial Court would be a meaningless exercise and this Court would become a first appellate court from a decision of the High Court in a case of acquittal by the Trial Court. Realistically speaking, although the principles stated are broad, it is the obligation of the High Court to consider and identify the error in the decision of the Trial Court and then decide whether the error is gross enough to warrant interference. The High Court is not expected to merely substitute its opinion for that of the Trial Court only because the first two principles in Chandrappa and Ganpat permit it to do so and because it has the power to do so – it has to correct an error of law or fact significant enough to necessitate overturning the verdict of the Trial Court. This is where the High Court has to exercise its discretion very cautiously, keeping in mind the acquittal of the accused and the rights of the victim (who may or may not be before it). This is also where the fifth principle laid down in Chandrappa and Ganpat comes into operation.
- (2014) 11 SCC 335
- AIR 1934 PC 227
- AIR 2014 SC 3701
- AIR 1945 PC 151
- (2007) 4 SCC 415
- (2010) 12 SCC 59
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