Parts of hostile witness’s evidence can be used: Supreme Court

NEW DELHI: Judges should not treat as totally erased the evidence tendered by a witness whom the prosecution terms as hostile during a trial, the Supreme Court has said. “It is a settled legal proposition that the evidence of a prosecution witness cannot be rejected in toto merely because the prosecution chose to treat him as hostile and cross-examined him,” the apex court bench of Justice B.S. Chauhan and Justice Dipak Misra said Monday.

“The evidence of such witnesses cannot be treated as effaced or washed off the record altogether but the same can be accepted to the extent that their version is found to be dependable on a careful scrutiny thereof,” Justice Chauhan said.

The judges said that “the law can be summarised to the effect that the evidence of a hostile witness cannot be discarded as a whole, and relevant parts thereof which are admissible in law, can be used by the prosecution or the defence”.  The court said this while upholding the Allahabad High Court’s verdict by which it reversed the acquittal of Ramesh Harijan in a case of rape and causing the death of a minor child in Uttar Pradesh in 1996.

The high court by its March 23, 2007 order reversed the acquittal decision of an additional district and session judge in Basti district Feb 2, 1999. The apex court said “even if a major portion of the evidence is found to be deficient, in case residue is sufficient to prove guilt of an accused, it is the duty of the court to separate the grain from chaff. Falsity of particular material witness or material particular would not ruin it from the beginning to end”.

“The maxim falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one, false in all) has no application in India and the witness cannot be branded as a liar. In case this maxim is applied in all the cases it is to be feared that administration of criminal justice would come to a dead stop,” the court said. The judgment said “it has to be appraised in each case as to what extent the evidence is worthy of credence, and merely because in some respects the court considers the same to be insufficient or unworthy of reliance, it does not necessarily follow as a matter of law that it must be disregarded in all respects as well”.

Referring to the evidence tendered by three hostile witnesses in Harijan’s case, the apex court said: “Undoubtedly, there may be some exaggeration in the evidence of the prosecution witnesses… however, it is the duty of the court to unravel the truth under all circumstances.”

“A reasonable doubt is not an imaginary trivial or merely possible doubt, but a fair doubt based upon reason and common sense”, the apex court said, upholding the high court’s verdict setting aside the acquittal of Harijan by the trial court. In Harijan’s case, the five-year-old victim was first buried by her family under the belief that she died of paralysis. But her body was later exhumed and sexual assault and death due to shock was confirmed in a medical test.

Advertisements

Law on Bail

Supreme Court of India

SUPREME COURT IN Sanjay Chandra vs Cbi on 23 November, 2011

Let us first deal with a minor issue canvassed by Mr. Raval, learned ASG. It is submitted that this Court has refused to entertain the Special Leave Petition filed by one of the co-accused [Sharad Kumar Vs. CBI (supra)] and, therefore, there is no reason or change in the circumstance to take a different view in the case of the appellants who are also charge- sheeted for the same offence. We are not impressed by this argument. In the aforesaid petition, the petitioner was before this Court before framing of charges by the Trial Court. Now the charges are framed and the trial has commenced. We cannot compare the earlier and the present proceedings and conclude that there are no changed circumstances and reject these petitions.

The appellants are facing trial in respect of the offences under Sections 420-B, 468, 471 and 109 of Indian Penal Code and Section 13(2) read 2 with 13(i)(d) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Bail has been refused first by the Special Judge, CBI, New Delhi and subsequently, by the High Court. Both the courts have listed the factors, on which they think, are relevant for refusing the Bail applications filed by the applicants as seriousness of the charge; the nature of the evidence in support of the charge; the likely sentence to be imposed upon conviction; the possibility of interference with witnesses; the objection of the prosecuting authorities; possibility of absconding from justice.

In bail applications, generally, it has been laid down from the earliest times that the object of bail is to secure the appearance of the accused person at his trial by reasonable amount of bail. The object of bail is neither punitive nor preventative. Deprivation of liberty must be considered a punishment, unless it can be required to ensure that an accused person will stand his trial when called upon. The courts owe more than verbal respect to the principle that punishment begins after conviction, and that every man is deemed to be innocent until duly tried and duly found guilty. From the earliest times, it was appreciated that detention in custody pending completion of trial could be a cause of great hardship. From time to time, necessity demands that some un-convicted persons should be held in custody pending trial to secure their attendance at the trial but in such cases, `necessity’ is the operative test. In this country, it would be quite contrary to the concept of personal liberty enshrined in the Constitution that any person should be punished in respect of any matter, upon which, he has not been convicted or that in any circumstances, he should be deprived of his liberty upon only the belief that he will tamper with the witnesses if  left at liberty, save in the most extraordinary circumstances. Apart from the question of prevention being the object of a refusal of bail, one must not lose sight of the fact that any imprisonment before conviction has a substantial punitive content and it would be improper for any Court to refuse bail as a mark of disapproval of former conduct whether the accused has been convicted for it or not or to refuse bail to an un-convicted person for the purpose of giving him a taste of imprisonment as a lesson.

In the instant case, as we have already noticed that the pointing finger of accusation against the appellants is `the seriousness of the charge’. The offences alleged are economic offences which have resulted in loss to the State exchequer. Though, they contend that there is possibility of the appellants tampering witnesses, they have not placed any material in  support of the allegation. In our view, seriousness of the charge is, no doubt, one of the relevant considerations while considering bail applications but that is not the only test or the factor : The other factor that also requires to be taken note of is the punishment that could be imposed after trial and conviction, both under the Indian Penal Code and Prevention of Corruption Act. Otherwise, if the former is the only test, we would not be balancing the Constitutional Rights but rather recalibration of the scales of justice. The provisions of Cr.P.C. confer discretionary jurisdiction on Criminal Courts to grant bail to accused pending trial or in appeal against convictions, since the jurisdiction is discretionary, it has to be exercised with great care and caution by balancing valuable right of liberty of an individual and the interest of the society in general. In our view, the reasoning adopted by the learned District Judge, which is affirmed by the High Court, in our opinion, a denial of the whole basis of our system of law and normal rule of bail system. It transcends respect for the requirement that a man shall be considered innocent until he is found guilty. If such power is recognized, then it may lead to chaotic situation and would jeopardize the personal liberty of an individual.

This Court, in Kalyan Chandra Sarkar Vs. Rajesh Ranjan– (2005) 2 SCC 42, observed that under the criminal laws of this country, a person accused of offences which are non-bailable, is liable to be detained in custody during the pendency of trial unless he is enlarged on bail in accordance with law. Such detention cannot be questioned as being violative of Article 21 of the Constitution, since the same is authorized by law. But even persons accused of non- bailable offences are entitled to bail if the  Court concerned comes to the conclusion that the prosecution has failed to establish a prima facie case against him and/or if the Court is satisfied by reasons to be recorded that in spite of the existence of prima facie case, there is need to release such accused on bail, where fact situations require it to do so.

This Court, time and again, has stated that bail is the rule and committal to jail an exception. It is also observed that refusal of bail is a restriction on the personal liberty of the individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. In the case of State of Rajasthan v. Balchand, (1977) 4 SCC 308, this Court opined:

The basic rule may perhaps be tersely put as bail, not jail, except where there are circumstances suggestive of fleeing from justice or thwarting the course of justice or creating other troubles in the shape of repeating offences or intimidating witnesses and the like, by the petitioner who seeks enlargement on bail from the Court. We do not intend to be exhaustive but only illustrative.

It is true that the gravity of the offence involved is likely to induce the petitioner to avoid the course of justice and must weigh with us when considering the question of jail. So also the heinousness of the crime. Even so, the record of the petitioner in this case is that, while he has been on bail throughout in the trial court and he was released after the judgment of the High Court, there is nothing to suggest that he has abused the trust placed in him by the court; his social circumstances also are not so unfavourable in the sense of his being a desperate character or unsocial element who is likely to betray the confidence that the court may place in him to turn up to take justice at the hands of the court. He is stated to be a young man of 27 years with a family to maintain. The circumstances and the social milieu do not militate against the petitioner being granted bail at this stage. At the same time any possibility of the absconsion or evasion or other abuse can be taken care of by a direction that the petitioner will report himself before the police station at Baren once every fortnight (17) In the case of Gudikanti Narasimhulu v. Public Prosecutor, (1978) 1 SCC 240, V.R. Krishna Iyer, J., sitting as Chamber Judge, enunciated the principles of bail thus: What, then, is judicial discretion in this bail context? In the elegant words of Benjamin Cardozo:

The Judge, even when he is free, is still not wholly free. He is not to innovate at pleasure. He is not a knight-errant roaming at will in pursuit of his own ideal of beauty or of goodness. He is to draw his inspiration from consecrated principles. He is not to yield to spasmodic sentiment, to vague and unregulated benevolence. He is to exercise a discretion informed by tradition, methodized by analogy, disciplined by system, and subordinated to the primordial necessity of order in the social life. Wide enough in all conscience is the field of discretion that remains Even so it is useful to notice the tart terms of Lord Camden that  the discretion of a Judge is the law of tyrants: it is always unknown, it is different in different men; it is casual, and depends upon constitution, temper and passion. In the best, it is oftentimes caprice; in the worst,  it is every vice, folly and passion to which human nature is liable Perhaps, this is an overly simplistic statement and we must remember the  constitutional focus in Articles 21 and 19 before following diffuse observations and practices in the English system. Even in England there is a growing awareness that the working of the bail system requires a second look from the point of view of correct legal criteria and sound principles, as has been pointed out by Dr Bottomley. Let us have a glance at the pros and cons and the true principle around which other relevant factors must revolve. When the case is finally disposed of and a person is sentenced to incarceration, things stand on a different footing. We are concerned with the penultimate stage and the principal rule to guide release on bail should be to secure the presence of the applicant who seeks to be liberated, to take judgment and serve sentence in the event of the Court punishing him with imprisonment. In this perspective, relevance of considerations is regulated by their nexus with the likely absence of the applicant for fear of a severe sentence, if such be plausible in the case. As Erle. J. indicated, when the crime charged (of which a conviction has been sustained) is of the highest  magnitude and the punishment of it assigned by law is of extreme severity, the Court may reasonably presume, some evidence warranting, that no amount of bail would secure the presence of the convict at the stage of judgment, should he be enlarged. Lord Campbell, C.J. concurred in this approach in that case and Coleridge J. set down the order of priorities as follows:

I do not think that an accused party is detained in custody because of his guilt, but because there are sufficient probable grounds for the charge against him as to make it proper that he should be tried, and because the detention is necessary to ensure his appearance at trial …. It is a very important element in considering whether the party, if admitted to bail, would appear to take his trial; and I think that in coming to a determination on that point three elements will generally be found the most important: the charge, the nature of the evidence by which it is supported, and the punishment to which the party would be liable if convicted. In the present case, the charge is that of wilful murder; the evidence contains an admission by the prisoners of the truth of the charge, and the punishment of the offence is, by law, death

It is thus obvious that the nature of the charge is the vital  factor and the nature of the evidence also is pertinent. The punishment to which the party may be liable, if convicted or conviction is confirmed, also bears upon the issue. Another relevant factor is as to whether the course of justice would be thwarted by him who seeks the benignant jurisdiction of the Court to be freed for the time being. Thus the legal principles and practice validate the Court considering the likelihood of the applicant interfering with witnesses for the prosecution or otherwise polluting the process of justice. It is not only traditional but rational, in this context, to enquire into the antecedents of a man who is applying for bail to find whether he has a bad record – particularly a record which suggests that he is likely to commit serious offences while on bail. In regard to habitual, it is part of criminological history that a thoughtless bail order has enabled the bailee to exploit the opportunity to inflict further crimes on the members of society. Bail discretion, on the basis of evidence about the criminal record of a defendant is therefore not an exercise in irrelevance.

Viewed from this perspective, we gain a better insight into the rules of the game. When a person, charged with a grave offence, has  been acquitted at a stage, has the intermediate acquittal pertinence to a bail plea when the appeal before this Court pends? Yes, it has. The panic which might prompt the accused to jump the gauntlet of justice is less, having enjoyed the confidence of the Court’s verdict once. Concurrent holdings of guilt have the opposite effect. Again, the ground for denial of provisional release becomes weaker when the fact stares us in the face that a fair finding — if that be so — of innocence has been recorded by one Court. It may not be conclusive, for the judgment of acquittal may be ex facie wrong, the likelihood of desperate reprisal, if enlarged, may be a deterrent and his own safety may be more in prison than in the vengeful village where feuds have provoked the violent offence. It depends. Antecedents of the man and socio- geographical circumstances have a bearing only from this angle. Police exaggerations of prospective misconduct of the accused, if enlarged, must be soberly sized up lest danger of excesses and injustice creep subtly into the discretionary curial technique. Bad record and police prediction of criminal prospects to invalidate the bail plea are admissible in principle but shall not stampede the Court into a complacent refusal. In Gurcharan Singh v. State (Delhi Admn.), (1978) 1 SCC 118, this Court took the view:. In other non-bailable cases the Court will exercise its judicial discretion in favour of granting bail subject to sub- section (3) of Section 437 CrPC if it deems necessary to act under it. Unless exceptional circumstances are brought to the notice of the Court which may defeat proper investigation and a fair trial, the Court will not decline to grant bail to a person who is not accused of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life. It is also clear that when an accused is brought before the Court of a Magistrate with the allegation against him of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life, he has ordinarily no option in the matter but to refuse bail subject, however, to the first proviso to Section 437(1) CrPC and in a case where the Magistrate entertains a reasonable belief on the materials that the accused has not been guilty of such an offence. This will, however, be an extraordinary occasion since there will be some materials at the stage of initial arrest, for the accusation or for strong suspicion of commission by the person of such an offence.

Section 439(1) CrPC of the new Code, on the other hand, confers special powers on the High Court or the Court of Session in respect of bail. Unlike under Section 437(1) there is no ban imposed under Section 439(1), CrPC against granting of bail by the High Court or the Court of Session to persons accused of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life. It is, however, legitimate to suppose that the High Court or the Court of Session will be approached by an accused only after he has failed before the Magistrate and after the investigation has progressed throwing light on the evidence and circumstances implicating the accused. Even so, the High Court or the Court of Session will have to exercise its judicial discretion in considering the question of granting of bail under Section 439(1) CrPC of the new Code. The overriding considerations in granting bail to which we adverted to earlier and which are common both in the case of Section 437(1) and Section 439(1) CrPC of the new Code are the nature and gravity of the circumstances in which the offence is committed; the position and the status of the accused with reference to the victim and the witnesses; the likelihood, of the accused fleeing from justice; of repeating the offence; of  jeopardising his own life being faced with a grim prospect of possible conviction in the case; of tampering with witnesses; the history of the case as well as of its investigation and other relevant grounds which, in view of so many valuable factors, cannot be exhaustively set out

 In Babu Singh v. State of U.P., (1978) 1 SCC 579, this Court opined: The Code is cryptic on this topic and the Court prefers to be tacit, be the order custodial or not. And yet, the issue is one of liberty, justice, public safety and burden on the public treasury, all of which insist that a developed jurisprudence of bail is integral to a socially sensitized judicial process. As Chamber Judge in this summit Court I had to deal with this uncanalised case-flow, ad hoc response to the docket being the flickering candle light. So it is desirable that the subject is disposed of on basic principle, not improvised brevity draped as discretion. Personal liberty, deprived when bail is refused, is too precious a value of our constitutional system recognised under Article 21 that the curial power to negate it is a great trust exercisable, not casually but judicially, with  lively concern for the cost to the individual and the community. To glamorise impressionistic orders as discretionary may, on occasions, make a litigative gamble decisive of a fundamental right. After all, personal liberty of an accused or convict is fundamental, suffering lawful eclipse only in terms of procedure established by law. The last four words of Article 21 are the life of that human right. …

Thus the legal principle and practice validate the Court considering the likelihood of the applicant interfering with witnesses for the prosecution or otherwise polluting the process of justice. It is not only traditional but rational, in this context, to enquire into the antecedents of a man who is applying for bail to find whether he has a bad record–particularly a record which suggests that he is likely to commit serious offences while on bail. In regard to habituals, it is part of criminological history that a thoughtless bail order has enabled the bailee to exploit the opportunity to inflict further crimes on the members of society. Bail discretion, on the basis of evidence about the criminal record of a defendant, is therefore not an exercise in irrelevance.

The significance and sweep of Article 21 make the deprivation of liberty a matter of grave concern and permissible only when the law authorising it is reasonable, even-handed and geared to the goals of community good and State necessity spelt out in Article 19. Indeed, the considerations I have set out as criteria are germane to the constitutional proposition I have deduced. Reasonableness postulates intelligent care and predicates that deprivation of freedom by refusal of bail is not for punitive purpose but for the bi-focal interests of justice–to the individual involved and society affected.

We must weigh the contrary factors to answer the test of reasonableness, subject to the need for securing the presence of the bail applicant. It makes sense to assume that a man on bail has a better chance to prepare or present his case than one remanded in custody. And if public justice is to be promoted, mechanical detention should be demoted. In the United States, which has a constitutional perspective close to ours, the function of bail is limited, community roots of the applicant are stressed and, after the Vera Foundation’s Manhattan Bail Project, monetary suretyship is losing ground. The considerable public expense in keeping in custody where no danger of disappearance or disturbance can arise, is not a negligible consideration. Equally important is the deplorable condition, verging on the inhuman, of our sub-jails, that the unrewarding cruelty and expensive custody of avoidable incarceration makes refusal of bail unreasonable and a policy favouring release justly sensible.

Viewed from this perspective, we gain a better insight into the rules of the game. When a person, charged with a grave offence, has been acquitted at a stage, has the intermediate acquittal pertinence to a bail plea when the appeal before this Court pends? Yes, it has. The panic which might prompt the accused to jump the gauntlet of justice is less, having enjoyed the confidence of the Court’s verdict once. Concurrent holdings of guilt have the opposite effect. Again, the ground for denial of provisional release becomes weaker when the fact stares us in the face that a fair finding — if that be so — of innocence has been recorded by one Court. It may be conclusive, for the judgment of acquittal may be ex facie wrong, the likelihood of desperate reprisal, it enlarged, may be a deterrent and his own safety may be more in prison than in the vengeful village where feuds have provoked the violent offence. It depends. Antecedents of the man  and socio-geographical circumstances have a bearing only from this angle. Police exaggerations of prospective misconduct of the accused, if enlarged, must be soberly sized up lest danger of excesses and injustice creep subtly into the discretionary curial technique. Bad record and police prediction of criminal prospects to invalidate the bail plea are admissible in principle but shall not stampede the Court into a complacent refusal

In Moti Ram v. State of M.P., (1978) 4 SCC 47, this Court, while discussing pre-trial detention, held: The consequences of pre-trial detention are grave. Defendants presumed innocent arc subjected to the psychological and physical deprivations of jail life, usually under more onerous conditions than are imposed on convicted defendants. The jailed defendant loses his job if he has one and is prevented from contributing to the preparation of his defence. Equally important, the burden of his detention frequently falls heavily on the innocent members of his family.

The concept and philosophy of bail was discussed by this Court in Vaman Narain Ghiya v. State of Rajasthan, (2009) 2 SCC 281, thus: Bail remains an undefined term in CrPC. Nowhere else has the term been statutorily defined. Conceptually, it continues to be understood as a right for assertion of freedom against the State imposing restraints. Since the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, to which India is a signatory, the concept of bail has found a place within the scope of human rights. The dictionary meaning of the expression bail denotes a security for appearance of a prisoner for his release. Etymologically, the word is derived from an old French verb bailer; which means to give or to deliver, although another view is that its derivation is from the Latin term baiul are, meaning to bear a burden;. Bail is a conditional liberty. Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary (4th Edn., 1971) spells out certain other details. It states: when a man is taken or arrested for felony, suspicion of felony, indicted of felony, or any such case, so that he is restrained of his liberty. And, being by law bailable, offereth surety to those  which have authority to bail him, which sureties are bound for him to the King’s use in a certain sums of money, or body for body, that he shall appear before the justices of goal delivery at the next sessions, etc. Then upon the bonds of these sureties, as is aforesaid, he is bailed–that is to say, set at liberty until the day appointed for his appearance Bail may thus be regarded as a mechanism whereby the State devolutes upon the community the function of securing the presence of the prisoners, and at the same time involves participation of the community in administration of justice.

Personal liberty is fundamental and can be circumscribed only by some process sanctioned by law. Liberty of a citizen is undoubtedly important but this is to balance with the security of the community. A balance is required to be maintained between the personal liberty of the accused and the investigational right of the police. It must result in minimum interference with the personal liberty of the accused and the right of the police to investigate the case. It has to dovetail two conflicting demands, namely, on the one hand the requirements of the society for being shielded from the hazards of being exposed to the misadventures of a person alleged  to have committed a crime; and on the other, the fundamental canon of criminal jurisprudence viz. the presumption of innocence of an accused till he is found guilty. Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint, the more restraint on others to keep off from us, the more liberty we have. (See A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras)

The law of bail, like any other branch of law, has its own philosophy, and occupies an important place in the administration of justice and the concept of bail emerges from the conflict between the police power to restrict liberty of a man who is alleged to have committed a crime, and presumption of innocence in favour of the alleged criminal. An accused is not detained in custody with the object of punishing him on the assumption of his guilt.

More recently, in the case of Siddharam Satlingappa Mhetre v. State of Maharashtra, (2011) 1 SCC 694, this Court observed that just as liberty is precious to an individual, so is the society’s interest in maintenance of  peace, law and order. Both are equally important This Court further observed : Personal liberty is a very precious fundamental right and it should be curtailed only when it becomes imperative according to the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case This Court has taken the view that when there is a delay in the trial, bail should be granted to the accused [See Babba v. State of Maharashtra, (2005) 11 SCC 569, Vivek Kumar v. State of U.P., (2000) 9 SCC 443, Mahesh Kumar Bhawsinghka v. State of Delhi, (2000) 9 SCC 383].

The principles, which the Court must consider while granting or declining bail, have been culled out by this Court in the case of Prahlad Singh Bhati v. NCT, Delhi, (2001) 4 SCC 280, thus: The jurisdiction to grant bail has to be exercised on the basis of well-settled principles having regard to the circumstances of each case and not in an arbitrary manner. While granting the bail, the court has to keep in mind the nature of accusations, the nature of the evidence in support thereof, the severity of the punishment which conviction will entail, the character, behaviour, means and standing of the accused, circumstances which are peculiar to the accused, reasonable possibility of securing the presence of the accused at the trial, reasonable apprehension of the witnesses being tampered with, the larger interests of the public or State and similar other considerations. It has also to be kept in mind that for the purposes of granting the bail the legislature has used the words reasonable grounds for believing instead of the evidence which means the court dealing with the grant of bail can only satisfy it (sic itself) as to whether there is a genuine case against the accused and that the prosecution will be able to produce prima facie evidence in support of the charge. It is not expected, at this stage, to have the evidence establishing the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt

In State of U.P. v. Amarmani Tripathi, (2005) 8 SCC 21, this Court held as under: "18. It is well settled that the matters to be considered in an application for bail are (i) whether there is any prima facie or reasonable ground to believe that the accused had committed the offence; (ii) nature and gravity of the charge; (iii) severity of the punishment in the event of conviction; (iv) danger of the accused absconding or fleeing, if released on bail; (v) character, behaviour, means, position and standing of the accused; (vi) likelihood of the offence being repeated; (vii) reasonable apprehension of the witnesses being tampered with; and (viii) danger, of course, of justice being thwarted by grant of bail [see Prahlad Singh Bhati v. NCT, Delhi and Gurcharan Singh v. State (Delhi Admn.)]. While a vague allegation that the accused may tamper with the evidence or witnesses may not be a ground to refuse bail, if the accused is of such character that his mere presence at large would intimidate the witnesses or if there is material to show that he will use his liberty to subvert justice or tamper with the evidence, then bail will be refused. We may also refer to the following principles relating to grant or refusal of bail Kalyan Chandra Sarkar v. Rajesh Ranjan: (SCC pp. 535-36, para 11) The law in regard to grant or refusal of bail is very well settled. The court granting bail should exercise its discretion in a judicious manner and not as a matter of course. Though at the stage of granting bail a detailed examination of evidence and elaborate documentation of the merit of the case need not be undertaken, there is a need to indicate in such orders reasons for prima facie concluding why bail was being granted particularly where the accused is charged of having committed a serious offence. Any order devoid of such reasons would suffer from non-application of mind. It is also necessary for the court granting bail to consider among other circumstances, the following factors also before granting bail; they are:

(a) The nature of accusation and the severity of punishment in case of conviction and the nature of supporting evidence.

(b) Reasonable apprehension of tampering with the witness or apprehension of threat to the complainant.

(c) Prima facie satisfaction of the court in support of the charge. (See Ram Govind Upadhyay v. Sudarshan Singh and Puran v. Rambilas

 While a detailed examination of the evidence is to be avoided while considering the question of bail, to ensure that there is no prejudging and no prejudice, a brief examination to be satisfied about the existence or otherwise of a prima facie case is necessary) Coming back to the facts of the present case, both the Courts have refused the request for grant of bail on two grounds :- The primary ground is that offence alleged against the accused persons is very serious involving deep rooted planning in which, huge financial loss is caused to the State exchequer ; the secondary ground is that the possibility of the accused persons tempering with the witnesses. In the present case, the charge is that of cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property, forgery for the purpose of cheating using as genuine a forged document. The punishment of the offence is punishment for a term which may extend to seven years. It is, no doubt, true that the nature of the charge may be relevant, but at the  same time, the punishment to which the party may be liable, if convicted, also bears upon the issue. Therefore, in determining whether to grant bail, both the seriousness of the charge and the severity of the punishment should be taken into consideration. The grant or refusal to grant bail lies within the discretion of the Court. The grant or denial is regulated, to a large extent, by the facts and circumstances of each particular case. But at the same time, right to bail is not to be denied merely because of the sentiments of the community against the accused.

 The primary purposes of bail in a criminal case are to relieve the accused of imprisonment, to relieve the State of the burden of keeping him, pending the trial, and at the same time, to keep the accused constructively in the custody of the Court, whether before or after conviction, to assure that he will submit to the jurisdiction of the Court and be in attendance thereon whenever his presence is required. This Court in Gurcharan Singh and Ors. Vs. State AIR 1978 SC 179 observed that two paramount considerations, while considering petition for grant of bail in non-bailable offence, apart from the seriousness of the offence, are the likelihood of the accused fleeing from justice and his tampering with the prosecution witnesses. Both of them relate to ensure of the fair trial of the case. Though, this aspect is dealt by the High Court in its impugned order, in our view, the same is not convincing.

When the undertrial prisoners are detained in jail custody to an indefinite period, Article 21 of the Constitution is violated. Every person, detained or arrested, is entitled to speedy trial, the question is : whether the same is possible in the present case. There are seventeen accused persons. Statement of the witnesses runs to several hundred pages and the  documents on which reliance is placed by the prosecution, is voluminous. The trial may take considerable time and it looks to us that the appellants, who are in jail, have to remain in jail longer than the period of detention, had they been convicted. It is not in the interest of justice that accused should be in jail for an indefinite period. No doubt, the offence alleged against the appellants is a serious one in terms of alleged huge loss to the State exchequer, that, by itself, should not deter us from enlarging the appellants on bail when there is no serious contention of the respondent that the accused, if released on bail, would interfere with the trial or tamper with evidence. We do not see any good reason to detain the accused in custody, that too, after the completion of the investigation and filing of the charge-sheet. This Court, in the case of State of Kerala Vs. Raneef (2011) 1 SCC 784, has stated:  In deciding bail applications an important factor which should certainly be taken into consideration by the court is the delay in concluding the trial. Often this takes several years, and if the accused is denied bail but is ultimately acquitted, who will restore so many years of his life spent in custody? Is Article 21 of the Constitution, which is the most basic of all the fundamental rights in our Constitution, not violated in such a case? Of course this is not the only factor, but it is certainly one of the important factors in deciding whether to grant bail. In the present case the respondent has already spent 66 days in custody (as stated in Para 2 of his counter-affidavit), and we see no reason why he should be denied bail. A doctor incarcerated for a long period may end up like Dr. Manette in Charles Dicken’s novel A Tale of Two Cities, who forgot his profession and even his name in the Bastille

 In `Bihar Fodder Scam’, this Court, taking into consideration the seriousness of the charges alleged and the maximum sentence of imprisonment that could be imposed including the fact that the appellants were in jail for a period more than six months as on the date of passing of the order, was of the view that the further detention of the appellants as pre-trial prisoners would not serve any purpose.

No need for corroboration and conviction can be imposed on the sole statement of the victim – Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has ruled that in rape cases there is no need for corroboration and conviction can be imposed on the sole statement of the victim. A bench of justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan said that the victims testimony cannot be looked at with suspicion. Supreme court adeed that it is a trite law that a woman, who is the victim of sexual assault, is not an accomplice to the crime but is a victim of another person’s lust. The Prosecutrix stands at a higher pedestal than an injured witness as she suffers from emotional injury. Hence, the victims evidence need not be tested with the same amount of suspicion as that of an accomplice. The bench dismissed an appeal filed by Mohd Imran Khan and Jamal Ahmed challenging their conviction for rape of a minor girl about 22 years ago. The defence had argued the victim’s statement cannot be relied upon as she had eloped with the accused.

In 2009, the court had ruled the same when awarding rigorous life imprisonment to convict Raju, a resident of east Delhi for raping his five-year-old neighbour. The apex court had ruled that the evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands almost on a par with the evidence of an injured witness and to an extent, is even more reliable. Evidence Act does not says that victims evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars. The court had also ruled that a victim is undoubtedly a competent witness under Section 118. However, courts also say that if a prosecutrix is an adult and of full understanding the court is entitled to base a conviction on her evidence unless the same is shown to be infirm and not trustworthy. If the totality of the circumstances appearing on the record of the case disclose that the prosecutrix does not have a strong motive to falsely involve the person charged, the court should ordinarily have no hesitation in accepting her evidence.

Errors in Age Verification

The medical report and the deposition of the Radiologist cannot predict the exact date of birth, rather it gives an idea with a long margin of 1 to 2 years on either side.

In Jaya Mala v. Home Secretary, Government of J & K & Ors., AIR 1982 SC 1297, this Court held:

However, it is notorious and one can take judicial notice that the margin of error in age ascertained by radiological examination is two years on either side.

(See also: Ram Suresh Singh v. Prabhat Singh @ Chhotu Singh & Anr., (2009) 6 SCC 681; and State of Uttar Pradesh v. Chhotey Lal, (2011) 2 SCC 550)

Judgement Text:

EVIDENCE OF PROSECUTRIX:

It is a trite law that a woman, who is the victim of sexual assault, is not an accomplice to the crime but is a victim of another person’s lust. The prosecutrix stands at a higher pedestal than an injured witness as she suffers from emotional injury. Therefore, her evidence need not be tested with the same amount of suspicion as  that of an accomplice. The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (hereinafter called `Evidence Act’), nowhere says that her evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars. She is undoubtedly a competent witness under Section 118 of Evidence Act and her evidence must receive the same weight as is attached to an injured in cases of physical violence. The same degree of care and caution must attach in the evaluation of her evidence as in the case of an injured complainant or witness and no more. If the court keeps this in mind and feels satisfied that it can act on the evidence of the prosecutrix, there is no rule of law or practice incorporated in the Evidence Act similar to illustration (b) to Section 114 which requires it to look for corroboration. If for some reason the court is hesitant to place implicit reliance on the testimony of the prosecutrix it may look for evidence which may lend assurance to her testimony short of corroboration required in the case of an accomplice. If the totality of the circumstances appearing on the record of the case disclose that the prosecutrix does not have a strong motive to falsely involve the person charged, the court should ordinarily have no hesitation in accepting her evidence. The court must be alive to its responsibility and be sensitive while dealing with cases involving sexual molestations. Rape is not merely a physical assault, rather it often distracts the whole personality of the victim.

The rapist degrades the  very soul of the helpless female and, therefore, the testimony of the prosecutrix must be appreciated in the background of the entire case and in such cases, non-examination even of other witnesses may not be a serious infirmity in the prosecution case, particularly where the witnesses had not seen the commission of the offence. (Vide: State of Maharashtra v. Chandraprakash Kewalchand Jain, AIR 1990 SC 658; State of U.P. v. Pappu @Yunus & Anr. AIR 2005 SC 1248; and Vijay @ Chinee v. State of M.P., (2010) 8 SCC 191). Thus, the law that emerges on the issue is to the effect that statement of prosecutrix, if found to be worthy of credence and reliable, requires no corroboration. The court may convict the accused on the sole testimony of the prosecutrix.

The Trial Court came to the conclusion that there was no reason to disbelieve the prosecutrix, as no self-respecting girl would level a false charge of rape against anyone by staking her own honour. The evidence of rape stood fully corroborated by the medical evidence. The MLC of the prosecutrix Ext.PW2/A was duly supported by Dr. Reeta Rastogi (PW.2). This view of the Trial Court stands fortified by the judgment of this Court in State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh & Ors. AIR 1996 SC 1393, wherein this Court observed that the courts must, while  evaluating evidence remain alive to the fact that in a case of rape, no self-respecting woman would come forward in a court just to make a humiliating statement against her honour such as is involved in the commission of rape on her.

Similarly, in Wahid Khan v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (2010) 2 SCC 9, it has been observed as under:

It is also a matter of common law that in Indian society any girl or woman would not make such allegations against a person as she is fully aware of the repercussions flowing therefrom. If she is found to be false, she would be looked at by the society with contempt throughout her life. For an unmarried girl, it will be difficult to find a suitable groom. Therefore, unless an offence has really been committed, a girl or a woman would be extremely reluctant even to admit that any such incident had taken place which is likely to reflect on her chastity. She would also be conscious of the danger of being ostracised by the society. It would indeed be difficult for her to survive in Indian society which is, of course, not as forward-looking as the western countries are.

Much reliance has been placed by learned counsel for the appellants on the judgment of this Court in Javed Masood & Anr. v. State of Rajasthan, (2010) 3 SCC 538, wherein it had been held that in case the prosecution witness makes a statement and is not declared hostile, he is supposed to speak the truth and his statement is to be believed.

It is in view of this fact in the instant case that Puran Singh, I.O. (PW.15) has deposed in the court that the birth certificate of the prosecutrix did not relate to the prosecutrix. I did not verify about the birth certificate from the NDMC. I do not remember if at the time of bail application I had submitted that the birth certificate is genuine but does not relate to prosecutrix.

Thus, the question does arise as to what extent the court is under an obligation to accept the statement of Puran Singh, I.O. (PW.15) particularly in view of the birth certificate available on the record. In view of our finding in respect of the date of birth we are of the view that Puran Singh, I.O. (PW.15) unfortunately made an attempt to help the accused/appellants, though in the examination-in- chief the witness has deposed that the Birth Certificate providing the date of birth as 2.9.1974 was genuine.

Be that as it may, by now Puran Singh (PW.15) might have retired as the incident itself occurred 22 years ago. Therefore, we do not want to say anything further in respect of his conduct.

In State of Karnataka v. K. Yarappa Reddy, AIR 2000 SC 185, this Court while dealing with a similar issue held:It is well-nigh settled that even if the investigation is illegal or even suspicious the rest of the evidence must be scrutinized independently  of the impact of it. Otherwise the criminal trial will plummet to the level of the investigating officers ruling the roost. The court must have predominance and pre-eminence in criminal trials over the action taken by investigating officers. Criminal justice should not be made a casualty for the wrongs committed by the investigating officers in the case. In other words, if the court is convinced that the testimony of a witness to the occurrence is true the court is free to act on it albeit the investigating officer’s suspicious role in the case.

The investigation into a criminal offence must be free from all objectionable features or infirmities which may legitimately lead to a grievance to either of the parties that the investigation was unfair or had been carried out with an ulterior motive which had an adverse impact on the case of either of the parties. Investigating Officer is supposed to investigate an offence avoiding any kind of mischief or harassment to either of the party. He has to be fair and conscious so as to rule out any possibility of bias or impartial conduct so that any kind of suspicion to his conduct may be dispelled and the ethical conduct is absolutely essential for investigative professionalism. The investigating officer "is not merely to bolster up a prosecution case with such evidence as may enable the court to record a conviction but to bring out the real unvarnished truth. (Vide: Jamuna Chaudhary & Ors. v. State of Bihar, AIR 1974 SC 1822; State of Bihar & Anr. etc. etc. v. P.P. Sharma & Anr., AIR 1991 SC 1 1260; and Babubhai v. State of Gujarat & Ors., (2010) 12 SCC 254)

Shri Amrendra Sharan, learned senior counsel has placed reliance on the judgment of this Court in Baldev Singh & Ors. v. State of Punjab, AIR 2011 SC 1231, wherein the convicts of gang rape had been sentenced to 10 years RI and a fine of Rs.1000/- each had been imposed and served about more than 3 years imprisonment and incident had been very old, this Court in the facts and circumstances of the case reduced the sentence as undergone, directing the appellants therein to pay a sum of Rs.50,000/- of fine to be paid to the victim and prayed for some relief.

The High Court after taking into consideration all the circumstances including that the incident took place in 1989; the appeal before it was pending for more than 10 years; the prosecutrix had willingly accompanied the appellants to Meerut and stayed with them in the hotel; and she was more than 15 years of age when she eloped with the appellants and the appellants were young boys, reduced the sentence to 5 years which was less than the minimum prescribed sentence for the offence. As the High Court itself has awarded the sentence less than the minimum sentence prescribed for the offence recording special reasons, we do not think it to be a fit   case to reduce the sentence further in a proved case of rape of a minor. The appeals lack merit and are, accordingly, dismissed.

Post-2G, courts increasingly hanging up on bail pleas

J VENKATESAN IN THE HINDU

Public opinion and media glare blocking the normal course of the law, say experts. When Union Law Minister Salman Khursheed expressed concern over businessmen being kept behind bars and said this might affect investment, he might not have bargained for the Supreme Court’s reaction that his “comments are disturbing.”

Faced with having to decide between granting bail or sending the accused to jail before trial, trial courts have usually plumped for the former, except in serious or heinous crimes.But the 2G spectrum case, in which some of the accused have been packed off to jail at the pre-trial stage, has set a new trend that trial court judges describe as “changing the rules of the game” and that many legal experts see as a worrying challenge to well-settled principles of law in the grant of bail.

Some senior trial court judges handling sensitive cases, including those relating to economic offences, told The Hindu on condition of anonymity that until now, they granted bail routinely to the accused in economic offence and bank fraud cases.“We take cognisance of the chargesheet and on the first date of their appearance in response to summons, we release them on bail. During the trial they used to be on bail. If convicted, they would be sent to jail subject to their right of appeal,” said one judge.

Particularly in bank fraud cases involving senior bank managers and officials, the judge said, “we don’t send them to jail till the trial is over. The only condition we impose is they must surrender their passports and must ensure their presence during trial.”

But not any more apparently. “The rules of the game have changed dramatically after the ‘2G case’,” said another trial judge. “We are now in a fix whether to grant bail or not as before in bank fraud or economic offence cases. We are afraid not only about ‘trial by media’ but also about brickbats from the higher judiciary even if there is merit in granting bail in deserving cases.”

When asked whether a judge could violate the right to life and personal liberty of an accused just to pre-empt possible adverse remarks from the peers, pat came the reply: “Our career is also important for us. Even one blemish in the service records, even if it is not true, will spoil our chances of promotion to higher grade,” not to speak of elevation as a judge of the High Court.

Well-settled principles

Eminent legal experts are unanimous that irrespective of the nature of the cases, trial courts are bound to grant bail following the well settled principles of law. They are of the view that once the court takes cognisance of the chargesheet and the accused appears in court in response to summons, the course available to the court is to proceed as per Section 309 (2) Cr.P.C. by accepting bail bonds from the accused in terms of Section 88 Cr.P.C.

“Right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution is of paramount importance. Bail and not jail is the rule generally followed, except in heinous crimes and murder cases, where one may refuse bail. Courts must keep in mind that they must give specific reasons depending on the facts in each case as to why bail is being denied despite Article 2,” said eminent lawyer Fali Nariman.

According to him, “the approach of the investigating agencies nowadays seems to be that since some of the high profile accused allegedly manipulate the trial which ends in acquittal let them stay in jail before trial as long as possible. This is not a correct approach.”

Other senior lawyers are also of the opinion that the principles of bail are slanted in favour of the citizen’s right to liberty, and wondered if public opinion, including media, were driving the current trend of denying bail.

Though by itself the refusal of bail is not punitive, said former Solicitor-General Harish Salve, “the impression however is inescapable that in current times the societal revulsion against corruption in high places is displacing established principles of grant of bail.”

But if public opinion is the driving force behind denial of bail, and the judiciary wants to be seen as taking immediate steps against corrupt politicians and corporates, that would constitute, said Mr. Salve, “a subversion” of the principles of liberty.

“The freedom of the individual cannot be imperilled on the touchstone of public opinion. That, in a stark form, is the difference between justice by the guillotine in the presence of howling crowds, and the slow but fair system of justice in a democracy governed by the rule of law,” he said.

There would be moments, Mr. Salve said, “when the temptation to jettison time tested values is great in order to be seen to do something visible to those who society feels — and media convicts — of crimes such as corruption.”

Succumbing to this temptation would not augur well for democracy, he cautioned. His solution: fix the wheels of justice so that they move somewhat faster, rather than supplanting the principles of justice themselves.

Legal luminaries are clear that the only justification for refusal of bail would be if there was a possibility that the accused would abscond, or if he was likely to tamper with evidence or intimidate witnesses.

“Denial of bail should not be a form of punishment before trial itself starts. Personal liberty is a precious right and ought not to be interfered with by a premature punishment not contemplated by law. Way back in 1977, the Supreme Court said that the basic rule is bail, not jail. This position has not changed, and the trial courts should fearlessly follow the settled law relating to grant of bail,” said senior lawyer Raju Ramachandran.

The vice-chairman of the All India Bar Association, S. Prabakaran, also pointed out that as a signatory to several human rights conventions, India must respect the right of the accused to seek bail. “It is sad to note that invariably in all criminal cases,” said Mr. Prabakaran, “prosecution opposes bail to the accused in a mechanical manner. It is an irony that the same prosecuting agencies which take years to complete investigation and file a chargesheet in the court usually put up a stiff resistance against grant of bail on the usual ground ‘investigation is pending’.”

It should be borne in mind, he cautioned, “that if finally the cases end up in acquittal, the loss, ignominy and reputation suffered by the accused cannot be compensated by the judicial system. ‘Bail as a right and jail is an exception’ policy should be scrupulously followed by all the courts to avoid over-crowding of jails.”

Another senior advocate, K. Subramanian, also pointed out that courts were bound to follow the settled principles in granting bail in the interests of protecting the liberty of the individual as well to protect society’s interest.

Presumption of innocence

Reminding that at the pre-trial stage, every accused person is presumed to be innocent until the matter is finally disposed of by a competent court, Mr. Subramanian said “simply because a person has been charged with an alleged offence, he does not lose his right to protection of life and personal liberty.”

The main consideration in the matter of bail should not be that the accused is detained as a punishment, he said, but “whether the presence of the accused would be readily available for trial or that he is likely to abuse the discretion granted in his favour by tampering with evidence.”

SOURCE: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article2535127.ece

To avoid delay, guard against frivolous litigation: Supreme Court

Supreme Court of India

J VENKATESAN IN THE HINDU

Bench lists steps to be taken by trial courts while dealing with civil cases

Expressing concern over the prevailing delay in disposal of civil cases, the Supreme Court has streamlined the procedures to be followed by trial courts as well to curb frivolous litigation. A Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma, dealing with a civil appeal filed by Ramrameshwari Devi and others, said: “The courts have to ensure that there is no incentive to uncalled-for litigation. It is a matter of common experience that the court’s otherwise scarce and valuable time is consumed or more appropriately wasted in a large number of uncalled-for cases.”

Quoting a study, the Bench said: “Ninety per cent of our court time and resources are consumed in attending to uncalled-for litigation, which is created only because our current procedures and practices hold out an incentive to the wrongdoer. Those involved receive less than full justice and there are many more in the country, in fact, a greater number than those involved who suffer injustice because they have little access to justice, in fact, lack of awareness and confidence in the justice system.”

Giving an example of the problem, the Bench said: “It is a matter of common knowledge that lakhs of flats and houses are kept locked for years, particularly in big cities, because the owners are not certain that even after the expiry of the lease or licence period, the house, flat or the apartment would be vacated. It takes decades for the final determination of the controversy and wrongdoers are never adequately punished. Pragmatic approach of the courts would partly solve the housing problem.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Bhandari said: “The main question which arises for our consideration is whether the prevailing delay in civil litigation can be curbed. The existing system can be drastically changed or improved if the following steps are taken by the trial courts while dealing with the civil trials.”

As civil litigation was largely based on documents, it would be the bounden duty and obligation of the trial judge to carefully scrutinise, check and verify the pleadings and documents filed by the parties, the Bench said. The court should resort to discovery and production of documents and interrogatories at the earliest according to the object of the Civil Procedure Code. Imposition of actual, realistic or proper costs and/or ordering prosecution would go a long way in controlling the tendency on the litigants to introduce false pleadings and forged and fabricated documents. Imposition of heavy costs would also control unnecessary adjournments. “In appropriate cases, the courts may consider ordering prosecution, otherwise it may not be possible to maintain the purity and sanctity of judicial proceedings.”

The Bench said: “Courts have to be extremely careful in granting ad-interim ex-parte injunction. If injunction has been granted on the basis of false pleadings or forged documents, then the concerned court must impose costs, grant realistic or actual mesne profits and/or order prosecution. This must be done to discourage the dishonest and unscrupulous litigants from abusing the judicial system. In substance, we have to remove the incentive or profit for the wrongdoer.”

The Bench said: “No doubt, it would take some time for the courts, litigants and the advocates to follow these steps, but once it is observed across the country, then the prevailing system of adjudication of civil courts is bound to improve.”

Evidence of relatives can’t be discarded: Supreme Court

J VENKATESAN  IN THE HINDU

Trial courts cannot discard the evidence of witnesses just because they happen to be relatives of murdered persons, the Supreme Court has ruled.

A vacation Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and A.K. Patnaik said: “There is no bar on accepting the evidence of related witnesses. Merely because the witnesses are related to the complainant or the deceased, their evidence cannot be thrown out. If their evidence is found consistent and true, the fact of their being relatives cannot by itself discredit their evidence.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “The evidence of an interested witness does not suffer from any infirmity as such, but the courts require as a rule of prudence — not as a rule of law — that the evidence of such witnesses be scrutinised with a little care. Once that approach is made and the court is satisfied that the evidence of the interested witness has a ring of truth, such evidence could be relied upon even without corroboration. If after a careful analysis and scrutiny of their evidence, the version given by them appears clear, cogent and credible, there is no reason to discard the same.”

The Bench, after analysing a series of earlier judgments, said: “When the eyewitnesses are stated to be interested in and inimically disposed to the accused, it has to be noted that it would not be proper to conclude that they would shield the real culprit and rope in innocent persons. The truth or otherwise of the evidence has to be weighed pragmatically, and the court would be required to analyse the evidence of related witnesses and those witnesses who are inimically disposed to the accused. Relationship cannot be a factor to affect the credibility of an eyewitness.”

In the instant case, Waman and 10 others were awarded life imprisonment by a trial court in Maharashtra in a case of murder of two persons. The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court confirmed their conviction and sentence. Four of the 11 accused challenged the High Court’s order, chiefly on the ground that the crucial evidence given by women members of the family of the complainant, being close relatives, could not be relied upon for their conviction.

Appeal dismissed

Rejecting the appellants’ contention and dismissing the appeal, the Bench said: “It is important to note that the evidence of all the witnesses is corroborated by medical evidence. It is true that there is some variance in the testimony…describing [a] particular weapon held by the persons and [the] injuries on the body of the deceased. However, as rightly analysed by the trial court and accepted by the High Court, the testimony of these witnesses is convincing and trustworthy…, and there is no reason to disbelieve their statements.”

DIVORCE BY MUTUAL CONSENT

VIRENDRA KUMAR IN THE TRIBUNE

Divorce

Divorce

The sanctity of marriage cannot be allowed to be undermined by the whims of one of the annoying spouses. The law allows divorce by mutual consent, but its intent is not to facilitate the dissolution of marriage. To save marriage and  not to hasten its dissolution should be the core concern of courts

Marriages are made in heaven, or so it is said. But we are more often than not made to wonder what happens to them by the time they descend to earth. Though there is legal machinery in place to deal with such cases, these are perhaps the toughest for the courts to deal with. Such is the case presently before with us.” (emphasis added) This is how a Bench of the Supreme Court consisting of D.K. Jain and H.L. Dattu, JJ., prefaced its judgment in the case of Hitesh Bhatnagar v. Deepa Bhatnagar delivered on April 18, 2011.

Hitesh and Deepa got married in 1994. The following year they were blessed with a daughter. Sometime in 2000 due to “differences in their temperaments”, they began to live separately from each other and have been living thus ever since. In 2001 they filed a petition under section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, seeking divorce by mutual consent. Subsequently, before the court could consider their case for a divorce decree, the wife withdrew her consent. This resulted in the dismissal of the petition by the district court.

The High Court through its “well considered order” dismissed the appeal of the husband against the decision of the trial court. On further appeal, the husband again failed to get the desired divorce decree from the Supreme Court.

Why it is tough

One reason that applies to the resolution of matrimonial disputes generally is of course the inherent complexity of human nature and behaviour defying the application of set standard formulas. The other reason is the persistent misconceptions or misgivings about the very nature, scope and ambit of the remedy of divorce by mutual consent itself.

The apex court in the Hitesh Bhatnagar case has not just decided the dispute but undertaken fairly an extensive survey of the law developed through judicial decision-making. A juridical analysis of this decision would, therefore, be instructive in unfolding the various nuances. The following misgivings often come into vogue.

A close reading of section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, shows that a divorce decree by mutual consent is not really a divorce decree by mere consent of parties. In effect, it is with the consent of the court. It becomes operational “with effect from the date of the decree” granted by the court and not from the date of filing of the petition “by both the parties to a marriage together.” To this extent, the expression “divorce by mutual consent” seems to be a misnomer. Literally speaking, it seems to imply that as there is “marriage by mutual consent” by taking seven steps around the sacred fire, say, in clockwise direction, so is “divorce by mutual consent” as if taking seven steps in anti-clockwise direction!

Compared to the grant of divorce on grounds like adultery, cruelty, desertion, etc. under section 13 of the Act, the conditions for the grant of decree under section 13B are rather more stringent. Under the mutual consent provision, the parties intending to dissolve marriage are required to wait, not only for at least one year from the date of marriage, termed as the “trial period” under section 14 of the Act, but also obligated to show further that they have been living separately for a period of one year or more before the presentation of the petition, and during this period of separation “they have not been able to live together” as husband and wife. Besides, after filing the joint petition they must wait further for at least another six months, usually termed as the “cooling off period”. In short, mere filing the joint petition does not by itself snap the marital ties.

After the lapse of six months, if the said petition is not withdrawn in the meanwhile either singly or jointly, both the parties may move the court by way of joint motion within the stipulated period of 18 months from the initial date of filing of the joint petition. The interregnum is obviously intended to give more time and opportunity to the parties “to reflect on their move”, give a second thought or otherwise seek advice and counsel from relations and/or friends for maintaining their marriage.

 Withdrawal of consent

For pursuing divorce by mutual consent, it is imperative that mutual consent should continue till the decree is granted by the court. In case, even if one of the parties to marriage withdraws his or her consent initially given, the court instantly loses the jurisdiction to proceed further and grant relief under section 13-B of the Act. In this respect, the Supreme Court in the Hitesh Bhatnagar case reaffirmed its earlier decision in Sureshta Devi v. Om Prakash (1991), which overruled the view of the High Courts of Bombay and Delhi that proceeded on the premise that the crucial time for giving mutual consent for divorce is the time of filing petition and not the time when they subsequently move for a divorce decree.

The statutory expression “they have not been able to live together” under section 13-B(1) of the Act, is to be construed not just as a trite statement of pure volition. It bears a deeper connotation. It indicates, as the apex court has expounded, “the concept of broken down marriage”’ implying thereby that reconciliation between them is not possible. In this respect, the court is duty bound to satisfy itself “after hearing the parties and after making such inquiry as it thinks fit” about the bona fides and the consent of the parties, and then and then alone the court shall consider the grant of divorce decree.

The purpose of the period of 18 months from the date of presentation of the joint petition under Section 13-B (2) of the Act is for re-think and reconciliation. If the consent is withdrawn by either party to marriage, the petition becomes instantly ineffective and is liable to be dismissed at the threshold on this very count.

In view of the long separation of more than a decade from his wife, the husband, as a last resort, urged the apex court to dissolve his marriage by exercising its special jurisdiction under Article 142 of the Constitution. To buttress his claim he specifically cited a proximate decision of the Supreme Court itself – Anil Kumar Jain v. Maya Jain (2009) – wherein though the consent was withdrawn by the wife, yet the court found the marriage to have irretrievably broken down and granted a decree of divorce by exercising its special constitutional power.

Special power

However, in the instant case the apex court refused to invoke its special power in favour of the husband mainly for two reasons. One, the special power is to be used very sparingly in cases which cannot be effectively and appropriately tackled by the existing provisions of law or when the existing provisions cannot bring about complete justice between the parties.

Generally such a power is exercised neither in contravention of statutory provisions nor merely on grounds of sympathy. Two, the sanctity of the institution of marriage cannot allowed to be undermined merely at the whims of one of the annoying spouses, more specially in the situation and circumstances, as in the present case, wherein the wife has stated that she wants this marriage to continue “to secure the future of their minor daughter”.

Invariably it is found that a petition for divorce on fault grounds under section 13 is replaced by the remedy of dissolution of marriage by mutual consent under section 13-B of the Act. This is advisedly done as if the purpose of the latter provision is to facilitate divorce by effecting compromise between the parties in respect of ancillary matters. This in our view is perhaps the most erroneous construction of the provisions of section 13-B of the Act. The purpose of the remedy of mutual consent, we repeat, is not to facilitate the dissolution of marriage, inasmuch as even the provisions of section 13-B are subject to the other provisions of the Act.

Thus, to save marriage and not to hasten its dissolution should be the core concern of the court. Spouses may think of dissolving their marriage if they so fancy provided the court is satisfied that any of the grounds for granting relief exists, and that in court’s view it is not possible to make them reconciled!

Divorce with Mutual Consent- What it is all about

 Section 13-B of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, deals with divorce by mutual consent

Compared to the grant of divorce on grounds like adultery, cruelty, desertion, etc. under section 13 of the Act, the conditions for the grant of decree under section 13-B are rather more stringent

A divorce decree by mutual consent is not really a divorce decree by mere consent of the parties. In effect, it is with the consent of the court

The parties intending to dissolve marriage are required to wait for at least one year from the date of marriage

They have to show that they have been living separately for a period of one year or more before the presentation of the petition for divorce and that during this period of separation they have not been able to live together as husband and wife

After filing the joint petition they must wait further for at least six months

It is imperative that mutual consent should continue till the decree of divorce is granted by the court

If the consent is withdrawn by either party to marriage, the petition becomes instantly ineffective and is liable to be dismissed on this very count. 

The writer is the Director (Academics), Chandigarh Judicial Academy. 

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110625/edit.htm#6