Where the prosecution evidence points to the guilt of the accused and the judgment is on the face of it perverse, appeal court may interfere with an order of acquittal

Supreme court in State of Rajasthan Versus Shera Ram @ Vishnu Dutta (2011) 13 SCALE 140

There is no embargo on the appellate court reviewing the evidence upon which an order of acquittal is based. Generally, the order of acquittal shall not be interfered with because the PRESUMPTION of innocence of the accused is further strengthened by acquittal. The golden thread which runs through the web of administration of justice in criminal cases is that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case, one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence, the view which is favourable to the accused should be adopted. The paramount consideration of the court is to ensure that miscarriage of justice is prevented. A miscarriage of justice which may arise from acquittal of the guilty is no less than from the conviction of an innocent. In a case where admissible evidence is ignored, a duty is cast upon the appellate court to reappreciate the evidence where the accused has been acquitted, for the purpose of ascertaining as to whether any of the accused really committed any offence or not. (See Bhagwan Singh v. State of M.P.) The principle to be followed by the appellate court considering the appeal against the judgment of acquittal is to interfere only when there are compelling and substantial reasons for doing so. If the impugned judgment is clearly unreasonable and relevant and convincing materials have been unjustifiably eliminated in the process, it is a compelling reason for interference. These aspects were highlighted by this Court in Shivaji Sahabrao Bobade v. State of Maharashtra, Ramesh Babulal Doshi v. State of Gujarat, Jaswant Singh v. State of Haryana, Raj Kishore Jha v. State of Bihar, State of Punjab v. Karnail Singh, State of Punjab v. Phola Singh, Suchand Pal v. Phani Pal and Sachchey Lal Tiwari v. State of U.P.

10. When the conclusions of the High Court in the background of the evidence on record are tested on the touchstone of the principles set out above, the inevitable conclusion is that the High Court’s judgment does not suffer from any infirmity to warrant interference.

16. In a very recent judgment, a Bench of this Court in State of Kerala v. C.P. Rao decided on 16-5-2011, discussed the scope of interference by this Court in an order of acquittal and while reiterating the view of a three-Judge Bench of this Court in Sanwat Singh v. State of Rajasthan, the Court held as under:

13. In coming to this conclusion, we are reminded of the well-settled principle that when the court has to exercise its discretion in an appeal arising against an order of acquittal, the court must remember that the innocence of the accused is further re-established by the judgment of acquittal rendered by the High Court. Against such decision of the High Court, the scope of interference by this Court in an order of acquittal has been very succinctly laid down by a three-Judge Bench of this Court in Sanwat Singh v. State of Rajasthan 212. At SCR p. 129, Subba Rao, J. (as His Lordship then was) culled out the principles as follows:

‘9. The foregoing discussion yields the following results: (1) an appellate court has full power to review the evidence upon which the order of acquittal is founded; (2) the principles laid down in Sheo Swarup case afford a correct guide for the appellate court’s approach to a case in disposing of such an appeal; and (3) the different phraseology used in the judgments of this Court, such as (i) “substantial and compelling reasons”, (ii) “good and sufficiently cogent reasons”, and (iii) “strong reasons”, are not intended to curtail the undoubted power of an appellate court in an appeal against acquittal to review the entire evidence and to come to its own conclusion; but in doing so it should not only consider every matter on record having a bearing on the questions of fact and the reasons given by the court below in support of its order of acquittal in its arriving at a conclusion on those facts, but should also express those reasons in its judgment, which lead it to hold that the acquittal was not justified’.

17. Reference can also be usefully made to the judgment of this Court in Suman Sood v. State of Rajasthan, where this Court reiterated with approval the principles stated by the Court in earlier cases, particularly, Chandrappa v. State of Karnataka. Emphasising that expressions like “substantial and compelling reasons”, “good and sufficient grounds”, “very strong circumstances”, “distorted conclusions”, “glaring mistakes”, etc. are not intended to curtail the extensive powers of an appellate court in an appeal against acquittal, the Court stated that such phraseologies are more in the nature of “flourishes of language” to emphasise the reluctance of an appellate court to interfere with the acquittal. Thus, where it is possible to take only one view i.e. the prosecution evidence points to the guilt of the accused and the judgment is on the face of it perverse, then the Court may interfere with an order of acquittal.

12. There is a very thin but a fine distinction between an appeal against conviction on the one hand and acquittal on the other. The preponderance of judicial opinion of this Court is that there is no substantial difference between an appeal against conviction and an appeal against acquittal except that while dealing with an appeal against acquittal the Court keeps in view the position that the PRESUMPTION of innocence in favour of the accused has been fortified by his acquittal and if the view adopted by the High Court is a reasonable one and the conclusion reached by it had its grounds well set out on the materials on record, the acquittal may not be interfered with. Thus, this fine distinction has to be kept in mind by the Court while exercising its appellate jurisdiction. The golden rule is that the Court is obliged and it will not abjure its duty to prevent miscarriage of justice, where interference is imperative and the ends of justice so require and it is essential to appease the judicial conscience.

13. Also, this Court had the occasion to state the principles which may be taken into consideration by the appellate court while dealing with an appeal against acquittal. There is no absolute restriction in law to review and re-look the entire evidence on which the order of acquittal is founded. If, upon scrutiny, the appellate court finds that the lower court’s decision is based on erroneous views and against the settled position of law then the said order of acquittal should be set aside. {See State (Delhi Administration) v. Laxman Kumar and Ors., (1985) 4 SCC 476, Raj Kishore Jha v. State of Bihar and Ors., AIR 2003 SC 4664, Inspector of Police, Tamil Nadu v. John David, JT 2011 (5) SC 1