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Supreme Court raps govt lawyers, police for failed cases


SCNEW 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 Taking into consideration the seriousness of the matter, the official concerned may be withdrawn from investigative responsibilities, permanently or temporarily, depending purely on his culpability,” the bench said.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.

Rapist-killer freed

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”.


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    respected sir,

    an extremely important issue taken up very strongly by apex court…. thanks and congrats to the judges for it. before commenting any further i’ll like to mention a story as narrated by a retired police officer about a case of Ganganagar District, Rajasthan..the instance happened in early seventies….” A person ‘X’ came to a police SHO and gave him Rs. 18000 cash (which was a big amount in early seventies).He declared that on that day he will kill a village sarpanch in open ground panchayat meeting and sought a favor from SHO that as the crime will be done publically , SHO can book him and arrest him but all the police action should clearly and strongly prove the time of crime at least one hour later than the exact time of crime. He told that he can give even more and if not agreed by SHO, he will first tackle the deal with next officer .The pact was arrived between two. The crime happened at declared time well in the advance knowledge of police. The criminal came on jeep, fired at Sarpanch openly and rushed to Railway station, entered in reserved 2 tier coach of just started Ganganagar -Jaipur express, quarreled with TTE and injured and broke his teeth.The train had left station limits. The criminal allowed himself to be overpowered by public and he was handed over to GRP at next station and remained in custody of GRP for 1 day before bailed out and later had a compromise with TTE. On the murder site all evidences clearly proved the time of murder Actual + one hour ie at the time of murder this criminal was in custody of GRP at a distant station and proved to be travelled by train and records of train timings helped him to get rid of the punishment by trial court and appellant court”

    I have my own reasons to believe this story but the main point of mentioning this story is that the POLICE+Crimnal Nexus is to be broken honestly. Be sure if we are dishonest to our job we will ultimately prove dishonest to our family, our self. the officers on the one hand developing nexus with criminals and not co-operating the genuine sufferer or victim on the other hand; must be booked and strictly handled and punished…Mere law can not bring change. we have to change our mentality and identify and book each criminal whether within our self….

    thank you for sharing this case,

    Meharwan Singh Narang…
    94140 61398


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