An appeal against acquittal has been differentiated from a normal appeal against conviction-SC

The penal laws in India are primarily based upon certain fundamental procedural values, which are right to fair trial and presumption of innocence. A person is presumed to be innocent till proven guilty and once held to be not guilty of a criminal charge, he enjoys the benefit of such presumption which could be interfered with only for valid and proper reasons. An appeal against acquittal has always been differentiated from a normal appeal against conviction. Wherever there is perversity of facts and/or law appearing in the judgment, the appellate court would be within its jurisdiction to interfere with the judgment of acquittal, but otherwise such interference is not called for. We may refer to a recent judgment of this Court in the case of State of Rajasthan, through Secretary, Home Department v. Abdul Mannan, (2011) 8 SCC 65, wherein this Court discussed the limitation upon the powers of the appellate court to interfere with the judgment of acquittal and reverse the same.

11. This Court referred to its various judgments and held as under:

12. As is evident from the above recorded findings, the judgment of conviction was converted to a judgment of acquittal by the High Court. Thus, the first and foremost question that we need to consider is, in what circumstances this Court should interfere with the judgment of acquittal. Against an order of acquittal, an appeal by the State is maintainable to this Court only with the leave of the Court. On the contrary, if the judgment of acquittal passed by the trial court is set aside by the High Court, and the accused is sentenced to death, or life imprisonment or imprisonment for more than 10 years, then the right of appeal of the accused is treated as an absolute right subject to the provisions of Articles 134(1)(a) and 134(1)(b) of the Constitution of India and Section 379 of the code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. In light of this, it is obvious that an appeal against acquittal is considered on slightly different parameters compared to an ordinary appeal preferred to this Court.

13. When an accused is acquitted of a criminal charge, a right vests in him to be a free citizen and this Court is very cautious in taking away that right. The presumption of innocence of the accused is further strengthened by the fact of acquittal of the accused under our criminal jurisprudence. The courts have held that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case, then the one favourable to the accused, may be adopted by the court. However, this principle must be applied keeping in view the facts and circumstances of a case and the thumb rule is that whether the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. If the prosecution has succeeded in discharging its onus, and the error in appreciation of evidence is apparent on the face of the record then the court can interfere in the judgment of acquittal to ensure that the ends of justice are met. This is the linchpin around which the administration of criminal justice revolves.

14. It is a settled principle of criminal jurisprudence that the burden of proof lies on the prosecution and it has to prove a charge beyond reasonable doubt. The presumption of innocence and the right to fair trial are twin safeguards available to the accused under our criminal justice system but once the prosecution has proved its case and the evidence led by the prosecution, in conjunction with the chain of events as are stated to have occurred, if, points irresistibly to the conclusion that the accused is guilty then the court can interfere even with the judgment of acquittal. The judgment of acquittal might be based upon misappreciation of evidence or apparent violation of settled canons of criminal jurisprudence.

15. We may now refer to some judgments of this Court on this issue. In State of M.P. v. Bacchudas, the Court was concerned with a case where the accused had been found guilty of an offence punishable under Section 304 Part II read with Section 34 Indian penal code by the trial court; but had been acquitted by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh. The appeal was dismissed by this Court, stating that the Supreme Court’s interference was called for only when there were substantial and compelling reasons for doing so. After referring to earlier judgments, this Court held as under: (SCC pp. 138-39, paras 9-10)

9. 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


Source:- State of Rajasthan Versus Shera Ram @ Vishnu Dutta-(SUPREME COURT OF INDIA) (2011) 13 SCALE 140