CIVIL, Criminal Jurisprudence

Criminal Jurisprudence- Stare decisis

Judgment updates

It is trite that every criminal case has its own peculiar facts and circumstances. Undoubtedly, the jurisprudential evolution has brought out certain well accepted principles on the touchstone of which the evidence adduced at the criminal trial is tested or appreciated for its intrinsic worth and, for such purposes, precedents or the past decisions, particularly of the higher authorities, come as useful and handy guide. It is well settled, however, that it is not everything said by a judge while giving judgment that constitutes a precedent. The only thing in a judge’s decision which can be said to be binding is the principle upon which the case is decided, such principle being culled out from the analysis of the decision isolating it from the ratio decidendi. [CIT Vs. Sun Engineering Works (P) Ltd., (1992) 4 SCC 363 and Union of India Vs. Dhanwanti Devi, (1996) 6 SCC 44 & Madhav Rao Jivaji Rao Scindia Vs. Union of India, (1971) 1 SCC 85]. At the same time, it has to be borne in mind that the doctrine of stare decisis (meaning “to stand by decided cases”) in the context of criminal law has to be applied with even greater circumspection. In criminal cases, the principles drawn from previously decided cases are meant to be used for proper appreciation of facts havingregard to the overall factual matrix of the case and not as mathematical formulae.

In the particular context of criminal jurisprudence, in a decision reported as State of Orissa v. Mohd. Illiyas, (2006) 1 SCC 275, it was held as under :

12. “…According to the well-settled theory of precedents, every decision contains three basic postulates: (i) findings of material facts, direct and inferential. An inferential finding of facts is the inference which the Judge draws from the direct, or perceptible facts; (ii) statements of the principles of law applicable to the legal problems disclosed by the facts; and

(iii) judgment based on the combined effect of the above. A decision is an authority for what it actually decides. What is of the essence in a decision is its ratio and not every observation found therein nor what logically flows from the various observations made in the judgment. The enunciation of the reason or principle on which a question before a court has been decided is alone binding as a precedent. (see State of Orissa v. SudhansuSekharMisra (1968) 2 SCR 154 : AIR 1968 SC 647 and Union of India v. Dhanwanti Devi (1996) 6 SCC 44]. A case is a precedent and binding for what it explicitly decides and no more. The words used by Judges in their judgments are not to be read as if they are words in an Act of Parliament. In Quinn v. Leathem[1901 AC 495 : 85 LT 289 : (1900-03) All ER Rep 1 (HL)] the Earl of Halsbury, L.C. observed that every judgment must be read as applicable to the particular facts proved or assumed to be proved, since the generality of the expressions which are found there are not intended to be the exposition of the whole law but governed and qualified by the particular facts of the case in which such expressions are found and a case is only an authority for what it actually decides.” (emphasis supplied)

As observed by V.R. Krishna Iyer, J. in a judgement reported as Mamleshwar Prasad v. Kanhaiya Lal, (1975) 2 SCC 232 :-

“8. … it remains to be noticed that a prior decision of this Court on identical facts and law binds the Court on the same points in a later case. Here we have a decision admittedly rendered on facts and law, indistinguishably identical, and that ruling must bind.”

(emphasis supplied)

182. More than six decades ago, a bench of three Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court in a judgment reported as Pandurang v. State of Hyderabad, (1955) 1 SCR 1083, AIR 1955 SC 216, 1955 Cri LJ 572 dealing with a criminal case involving offences, inter alia, of culpable homicide brought out the risks inherent in application of precedents dehors the factual matrix in which the same are rendered and observed thus :-

“35. …At bottom, it is a question of fact in every case and however similar the circumstances, facts in one case cannot be used as a precedent to determine the conclusion on the facts in another. All that is necessary is either to have direct proof of prior concert, or proof of circumstances which necessarily lead to that inference, or, as we prefer to put it in the time-honoured way, “the incriminating facts must be incompatible with the innocence of the accused and incapable of explanation on any other reasonable hypothesis”. (Sarkar’s Evidence, 8th Edn., p. 30).

36. The learned counsel for the State relied on Mamand v. Emperor [ AIR 1946 PC 45] because in that case the accused all ran away and Their Lordships took that into consideration to establish a common intention. But there was much more than that. There was evidence of enmity on the part of the accused who only joined in the attack but had no hand in the killing, and none on the part of the two who did the actual murder. There was evidence that all three lived together and that one was a younger brother and the other a tenant of the appellant in question. There was evidence that they all ran away together: not simply that they ran away at the same moment of time when discovered, but that they ran away together. As we have said, each case must rest on its own facts and the mere similarity of the facts in one case cannot be used to determine a conclusion of fact in another. In the present case, we are of opinion that the facts disclosed do not warrant an inference of common intention in Pandurang case. Therefore, even if that had been charged, no conviction could have followed on that basis. Pandurang is accordingly only liable for what he actually did.”

(emphasis supplied)

183. That the above approach to criminal cases has stood the test of time and has been consistently followed is demonstrated by the following views expressed in decision of a yet another bench of three Hon’ble Judges of the Supreme Court, it having been reported as Kalyan Chandra Sarkar v. Rajesh Ranjan, (2005) 2 SCC 42, 2005 SCC (Cri) 489, in the following words :-

“42. While deciding the cases on facts, more so in criminal cases the court should bear in mind that each case must rest on its own facts and the similarity of facts in one case cannot be used to bear in mind the conclusion of fact in another case. (See Pandurang v. State of Hyderabad [(1955) 1 SCR 1083 : 1955 Cri LJ 572]). It is also a well-established principle that while considering the ratio laid down in one case, the court will have to bear in mind that every judgment must be read as applicable to the particular facts proved or assumed to be true since the generality of expressions which may be found therein are not intended to be expositions of the whole of the law, but are governed and qualified by the particular facts of the case in which such expressions are to be found. A case is only an authority for what it actually decides, and not what logically follows from it. See: (1) Quinn v. Leathem [1901 AC 495 : (1900-03) All ER Rep 1 : 85 LT 289 (HL)] , State of Orissa v. SudhansuSekhar Misra [(1968) 2 SCR 154 : AIR 1968 SC 647] , (3) Ambica Quarry Works v. State of Gujarat[(1987) 1 SCC 213 : AIR 1987 SC 1073] .

(emphasis supplied)

184. In the contrasting opinion, a finding is proposed to the effect that the prosecution has failed to establish any motive to commit the murder of Mahender Singh Tikla (PW-9) or anyone associated with him and further that there is no proof adduced as to existence of any argument or dealings with the accused persons to commit such crime. The well settled law, however, needs to be borne in mind that criminal conspiracies, particularly of such nature, are generally hatched in secrecy and executed in stealth. Though the present case mercifully is based on eye witnesses accounts, some of the key prosecution witnesses, in my opinion, identifying all the appellants connecting them with various acts of commission or omission which collectively constitute sufficient proof of they having acted in concert. If search for something more were to be made, one would hardly come across a case where direct evidence of prior agreement to commit a crime has been unearthed or successfully proved by direct evidence before the court. The failure of the trial court to return a clear verdict on the charge under Section 120-B IPC, coupled with the omission of the State to pursue appropriate remedy against such omission, only means conviction cannot be recorded for the said substantive offence.