Presumption of innocence has been recognised as a human right -SC

It is one of the fundamental principles of criminal jurisprudence that an accused is presumed to be innocent till he is proved to be guilty. It is equally well settled that suspicion howsoever strong can never take the place of proof. There is indeed a long distance between accused may have committed the offence and must have committed the offence, which must be traversed by the prosecution by adducing reliable and cogent evidence. Presumption of innocence has been recognised as a human right which cannot be wished away. See Narendra Singh and Anr. v. State of M.P., (2004) 10 SCC 699 and Ranjitsingh Brahmajeetsingh Sharma v. State of Mahsrashtra and Ors., (2005) 5 SCC 294. To the same effect is the decision of Supreme Court in Ganesan v. Rama S Raghuraman and Ors., (2011) 2 SCC 83 where this Court observed:

Every accused is presumed to be innocent unless his guilt is proved. The Presumption of innocence is human right. Subject to the statutory exceptions, the said principle forms the basis of criminal jurisprudence in India.

The above views were reiterated by Supreme Court in State of U.P. v. Naresh and Ors., (2011) 4 SCC 324.

In his dissenting judgment our esteemed Brother, Bedi, J. has referred to as many as five different Reports of Commissions of Enquiry set up over the past five decades or so to point out that the findings recorded in the reports submitted by the Commissions indicate an anti-minority bias among the police force in communal riot situations and investigations. Copious extracts from the reports reproduced in the judgment no doubt suggest that in situations when the police ought to protect the citizens against acts of communal violence, it has at times failed to do so giving rise to the perception that the police force as a whole is insensitive to the fears, concerns, safety and security of the minority communities. Whether these reports have been accepted by the governments concerned and if so how far have they contributed to the reform of the force is a matter with which we are not directly concerned in this case. All that we need to say is that sooner such reforms are brought the better it would be for an inclusive society like ours where every citizen regardless of his caste or creed is entitled to protection of his life, limb and property. It will indeed be a sad day for the secular credentials of this country if the perception of the minority communities about the fairness and impartiality of the police force were to be what the reports are suggestive of. and yet it may not be wholly correct to say that the police deliberately make no attempt to prevent incidents of communal violence or that efforts to protect the life and property of the minorities is invariably half hearted or that instead of assailants the victims themselves are picked up by the police. So also there is no reason for us to generalise and say that there is an attempt not to register cases against assailants and when such cases are registered loopholes are intentionally left to facilitate acquittals or that the evidence led in the Courts is deliberately distorted.

No one can perhaps dispute that in certain cases such aberrations may have taken place. But we do not think that such instances are enough to denounce or condemn the entire force for ought we know that for every life lost in a violent incident the force may have saved ten, who may have but for timely intervention been similarly lost to mindless violence. Suffice it to say that while the police force may have much to be sorry about and while there is always room for improvement in terms of infusing spirit of commitment, sincerity and selfless service towards the citizens it cannot be said that the entire force stands discredited. At any rate the legal proposition formulated by Bedi J. based on the past failures do not appear to us to be the solution to the problem. We say with utmost respect to the erudition of our Brother that we do not share his view that the reports of the Commissions of Enquiry set up in the past can justify a departure from the rules of evidence or the fundamental tenets of the criminal justice system. That an accused is presumed to be innocent till he is proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is a principle that cannot be sacrificed on the altar of inefficiency, inadequacy or inept handling of the investigation by the police. The benefit arsing from any such faulty investigation ought to go to the accused and not to the prosecution. So also, the quality and creditability of the evidence required to bring home the guilt of the accused cannot be different in cases where the investigation is satisfactory vis-…-vis cases in which it is not.

The rules of evidence and the standards by which the same has to be evaluated also cannot be different in cases depending upon whether the case has any communal overtones or in an ordinary crime for passion, gain or avarice. The prosecution it is axiomatic, must establish its case against the accused by leading evidence that is accepted by the standards that are known to criminal jurisprudence regardless whether the crime is committed in the course of communal disturbances or otherwise. In short there can only be one set of rules and standards when it comes to trials and judgment in criminal cases unless the statute provides for any thing specially applicable to a particular case or class of cases. Beyond that we do not consider it necessary or proper to say anything.

Ref: State of U.P. v. Naresh and Ors., (2011) 4 SCC 324.

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