Wednesday, April 2, 2008

SC dispenses justice without knock on its door

Apex court dispenses justice without knock on its door

In an unusual step, the Supreme Court has acquitted three people serving life terms in a Jharkhand jail for a murder charge even though they had never filed an appeal before it.

By Rana Ajit. Delhi, India, 2 Apr 2008 1:00 PM

In an unusual step, the Supreme Court has acquitted three people serving life terms in a Jharkhand jail for a murder charge even though they had never filed an appeal before it.

A bench of Justices B.N. Agarwal and G.S. Singhvi Tuesday ordered the release of Niraj Kumar, Dhiraj Kumar and Anand Kumar after finding that the trial court had erroneously convicted them without the prosecution proving their guilt convincingly and 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.

Though they had not approached the court, two other convicted along with them for the murder - Nazir and Anil Kumar - had appealed against a Jharkhand High Court ruling that upheld the trial court's conviction and sentenced all five to life for the murder some years ago.

The bench found the lacunae while adjudicating the appeals filed by the two. The other three had been unable to approach the highest court of the country, apparently owing to the costs involved.

The Supreme Court ruling is unusually brief - only three pages. It does not have details of the incident like the name of the person murdered, the place of the crime or the motive.

During the adjudication of the appeals by Nazir and Anil, the apex court found that the five were convicted merely on the basis of depositions made by three witnesses in the court.

It also found that the police had not conducted the mandatory test identification parade (TIP) of the witnesses, who were not known to the accused. In a TIP, a witness is required to identify the accused persons soon after they are arrested.

After detecting this lacuna in the trial court judgement, which also had the endorsement of the high court, the bench ruled: 'We are of the view that the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt and the high court was not justified in confirming the convictions of the accused persons.

'It appears that accused Niraj Kumar, Dhiraj Kumar and Anand Kumar did not file any appeal before this court but in view of our finding that the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, we are of the view that benefit of doubt should be given not only to the two appellants, Anil Kumar and Nazir but also to the other three convicts as well.

'Accordingly, convictions and sentences of all the five accused are set aside and they are acquitted of all the charges.' The bench ordered their 'release forthwith from custody'.

Asked why three of the five convicts had not filed an appeal at the Supreme Court, advocate Biraja Mahapatra said: 'The cost of justice at the apex court is not meagre. The lawyers charge a whopping fee to fight cases in the apex court.

'The courts generally do not grant any legal relief to a person unless the same is demanded. But here, it's the magnanimity of the apex court that it dispensed justice without waiting for a knock at its door.'

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