NEW DELHI: In a first for the criminal justice administration, the Supreme Court has ordered fastening accountability on investigating officers and public prosecutors, saying they must face punishment if it was found that their deliberate lapses resulted in acquittal of the accused in cases involving serious offences.
“On the culmination of a criminal case in acquittal, the investigating or prosecuting officials responsible for such acquittal must necessarily be identified. A finding needs to be recorded in each case, whether the lapse was innocent or blameworthy,” said a bench of Justice CK Prasad and Justice JS Khehar said on Tuesday.
“Each erring officer must suffer the consequences of his lapse, by appropriate departmental action, whenever called for. Taking into consideration the seriousness of the matter, the official concerned may be withdrawn from investigative responsibilities, permanently or temporarily, depending purely on his culpability,” the bench said.
Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Khehar said: “Accordingly we direct, the home department of every state government, to formulate a procedure for taking action against all erring investigating or prosecuting officials. All such erring officials/officers identified, as responsible for failure of a prosecution case, on account of sheer negligence or because of culpable lapses, must suffer departmental action.”
“The above mechanism formulated would infuse seriousness in the performance of investigating and prosecuting duties, and would ensure that investigation and prosecution are purposeful and decisive,” the bench said and asked the states to implement it in 6 months.
Justices Prasad and Khehar took this drastic step after being pained by lack of evidence leading to acquittal of a man from Ahmedabad who was accused of luring a six-year-old girl to the field, raping and then killing her, and severing her feet to steal hear anklets.
The trial court had found him guilty and awarded death sentence, but both the high court and the Supreme Court found the evidence woefully inadequate to declare the man guilty.
After upholding the HC order, the bench poured out its anguish. “The perpetrators of a horrendous crime, involving extremely ruthless and savage treatment to the victim, have remained unpunished. A heartless and merciless criminal, who has committed an extremely heinous crime, has gone scot-free. He must be walking around in Ahmedabad, or some other city/town in India, with his head held high. A criminal on the move. Fearless and fearsome.”
“Fearless now, because he could not be administered the punishment he ought to have suffered. And fearsome on account of his having remained unaffected by the brutal crime committed by him. His actions now, know of no barriers. He could be expected to act in an unfathomable savage manner, incomprehensible to a sane mind,” said Justice Khehar, who authored the judgment for the bench.
The bench said it was possible that this acquittal could mean an innocent person was saved from punishment but it could also be true that perpetrator of a heinous crime went scot free. Such situations must be remedied by fastening accountability on the investigating officer and the public prosecutor, it said.
“Adherence to a simple procedure could serve the objective. We accordingly direct, that on the completion of the investigation in a criminal case, the prosecuting agency should apply its independent mind, and require all shortcomings to be rectified, if necessary, by requiring further investigation. It should also be ensured that the evidence gathered during investigation is truly and faithfully utilized,” it said.
What the Bench Said:
“As we discharge our responsibility in deciding the instant criminal appeal, we proceed to apply principles of law, and draw inferences. For, that is our job. We are trained, not to be swayed by mercy or compassion.
We are trained to adjudicate without taking sides, and without being mindful of the consequences. We are required to adjudicate on the basis of well drawn parameters. We have done all that. Despite thereof, we feel crestfallen, heartbroken and sorrowful. We could not serve the cause of justice, to an innocent child. We could not even serve the cause of justice, to her immediate family. The members of the family of Gomi must never have stopped cursing themselves, for not adequately protecting their child from a prowler, who had snatched an opportunity to brutalise her, during their lapse in attentiveness. And if the prosecution version about motive is correct, the crime was committed for a mere consideration of Rs.1,000/-.
Every time there is an acquittal, the consequences are just the same, as have been noticed hereinabove. The purpose of justice has not been achieved. There is also another side to be taken into consideration. We have declared the accused-respondent innocent, by upholding the order of the High Court, giving him the benefit of doubt. He may be truly innocent, or he may have succeeded because of the lapses committed by the investigating/prosecuting teams. If he has escaped, despite being guilty, the investigating and the prosecution agencies must be deemed to have seriously messed it all up. And if the accused was wrongfully prosecuted, his suffering is unfathomable. Here also, the investigating and prosecuting agencies are blameworthy. It is therefore necessary, not to overlook even the hardship suffered by the accused, first during the trial of the case, and then at the appellate stages. An innocent person does not deserve to suffer the turmoil of a long drawn litigation, spanning over a decade, or more. The expenses incurred by an accused in his defence can dry up all his financial resources – ancestral or personal. Criminal litigation could also ordinarily involve financial borrowings. An accused can be expected to be under a financial debt, by the time his ordeal is over.
Numerous petitions are filed before this Court, praying for anticipatory bail (under Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure) at the behest of persons apprehending arrest, or for bail (under Section 439 of the Code of Criminal Procedure) at the behest of persons already under detention. In a large number of such petitions, the main contention is of false implication. Likewise, many petitions seeking quashing of criminal proceeding (filed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure) come up for hearing day after day, wherein also, the main contention is of fraudulent entanglement/involvement. In matters where prayers for anticipatory bail or for bail made under Sections 438 and 439 are denied, or where a quashing petition filed under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is declined, the person concerned may have to suffer periods of incarceration for different lengths of time. They suffer captivity and confinement most of the times (at least where they are accused of serious offences), till the culmination of their trial. In case of their conviction, they would continue in confinement during the appellate stages also, and in matters which reach the Supreme Court, till the disposal of their appeals by this Court. By the time they are acquitted at the appellate stage, they may have undergone long years of custody. When acquitted by this Court, they may have suffered imprisonment of 10 years, or more. When they are acquitted (by the trial or the appellate court), no one returns to them; what was wrongfully taken away from them. The system responsible for the administration of justice, is responsible for having deprived them of their lives, equivalent to the period of their detention. It is not untrue, that for all the wrong reasons, innocent persons are subjected to suffer the ignominy of criminal prosecution and to suffer shame and humiliation. Just like it is the bounden duty of a court to serve the cause of justice to the victim, so also, it is the bounden duty of a court to ensure that an innocent person is not subjected to the rigours of criminal prosecution.
The situation referred to above needs to be remedied. For the said purpose, adherence to a simple procedure could serve the objective. We accordingly direct, that on the completion of the investigation in a criminal case, the prosecuting agency should apply its independent mind, and require all shortcomings to be rectified, if necessary by requiring further investigation. It should also be ensured, that the evidence gathered during investigation is truly and faithfully utilized, by confirming that all relevant witnesses and materials for proving the charges are conscientiously presented during the trial of a case. This would achieve two purposes. Only persons against whom there is sufficient evidence, will have to suffer the rigors of criminal prosecution. By following the above procedure, in most criminal prosecutions, the concerned agencies will be able to successfully establish the guilt of the accused.
Every acquittal should be understood as a failure of the justice delivery system, in serving the cause of justice. Likewise, every acquittal should ordinarily lead to the inference, that an innocent person was wrongfully prosecuted. It is therefore, essential that every State should put in place a procedural mechanism, which would ensure that the cause of justice is served, which would simultaneously ensure the safeguard of interest of those who are innocent. In furtherance of the above purpose, it is considered essential to direct the Home Department of every State, to examine all orders of acquittal and to record reasons for the failure of each prosecution case. A standing committee of senior officers of the police and prosecution departments, should be vested with aforesaid responsibility. The consideration at the hands of the above committee, should be utilized for crystalizing mistakes committed during investigation, and/or prosecution, or both. The Home Department of every State Government will incorporate in its existing training programmes for junior investigation/prosecution officials course- content drawn from the above consideration. The same should also constitute course-content of refresher training programmes, for senior investigating/prosecuting officials. The above responsibility for preparing training programmes for officials, should be vested in the same committee of senior officers referred to above. Judgments like the one in hand (depicting more than 10 glaring lapses in the investigation/prosecution of the case), and similar other judgments, may also be added to the training programmes. The course content will be reviewed by the above committee annually, on the basis of fresh inputs, including emerging scientific tools of investigation, judgments of Courts, and on the basis of experiences gained by the standing committee while examining failures, in unsuccessful prosecution of cases.
We further direct, that the above training programme be put in place within 6 months. This would ensure that those persons who handle sensitive matters concerning investigation/prosecution are fully trained to handle the same. Thereupon, if any lapses are committed by them, they would not be able to feign innocence, when they are made liable to suffer departmental action, for their lapses.
On the culmination of a criminal case in acquittal, the concerned investigating/prosecuting official(s) responsible for such acquittal must necessarily be identified. A finding needs to be recorded in each case, whether the lapse was innocent or blameworthy. Each erring officer must suffer the consequences of his lapse, by appropriate departmental action, whenever called for. Taking into consideration the seriousness of the matter, the concerned official may be withdrawn from investigative responsibilities, permanently or temporarily, depending purely on his culpability. We also feel compelled to require the adoption of some indispensable measures, which may reduce the malady suffered by parties on both sides of criminal litigation. Accordingly we direct, the Home Department of every State Government, to formulate a procedure for taking action against all erring investigating/prosecuting officials/officers.
All such erring officials/officers identified, as responsible for failure of a prosecution case, on account of sheer negligence or because of culpable lapses, must suffer departmental action. The above mechanism formulated would infuse seriousness in the performance of investigating and prosecuting duties, and would ensure that investigation and prosecution are purposeful and decisive. The instant direction shall also be given effect to within 6 months.
A copy of the instant judgment shall be transmitted by the Registry of this Court, to the Home Secretaries of all State Governments and Union Territories, within one week. All the concerned Home Secretaries, shall ensure compliance of the directions recorded above. The records of consideration, in compliance with the above direction, shall be maintained”.