In all criminal cases, the prosecution must provide a list of statements, documents, material objects and exhibits on which the investigator did not rely: Supreme Court

In a judgment delivered on Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution in all criminal cases must provide the list of statements, documents, material objects and exhibits on which the investigator is not based.

The role of the prosecution is inherently dedicated to the conduct of a fair trial, not to a “lust for conviction”noted the bench consisting of Justices Uday Umesh Lalit, S. Ravindra Bhat and Bela M. Trivedi.

The court made this observation when considering appeals filed by those convicted under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The death sentence handed down against them by the Magistrate Court was upheld by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh. (The Supreme Court commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment for a minimum term of 25 years.)

While reviewing the evidence and the prosecution‘s version of the case, the court noted that a police officer testified as a defense witness in this case and that there was a cover-up of his involvement in the case. The bench therefore made observations regarding the role of the prosecutor and the trial court in arriving at the truth through fair disclosure and investigative review, respectively.

Not for a “thirst to reach the case on conviction”

The court observed that a prosecutor (appointed under Article 24 of the Penal Code) holds a statutory position of high esteem. The court said:

“Rather than part of the investigative agency, they are more of an independent statutory authority that serves as officers of the court. The role of the prosecution service is inherently dedicated to the conduct of a fair trial, not a “thirst to reach the conviction case”.

The court also referred extensively to submissions made in Siddharth Vasisht @ Manu Sharma v. State of NCT Delhi on due process protection afforded to the accused and its effect on the fair disclosure responsibilities of the prosecution. The court noted the following provisions regarding the provision of documents, etc. in the Draft Guidelines Approved in the Criminal Trial Guidelines on Inadequacies and Deficiencies, in the case against the State of Andhra Pradesh:

Each defendant must be provided with witness statements recorded under Sections 161 and 164 Cr.PC and a list of documents, material objects and exhibits seized during the investigation and relied upon by the Investigator (IO) pursuant to Sections 207 and 208, Cr . pc.

Explanation: The list of statements, documents, tangible objects and exhibits must specify the statements, documents, tangible objects and exhibits on which the investigator is not relying.

Taking note of this, the court said:

“In view of the above discussion, this court is of the opinion that the prosecution, in the interest of fairness, should as a general rule in all criminal trials abide by the above rule and furnish the list statements, documents, material objects and exhibits which are not cited by the judicial police officer The presidents of the criminal courts ensure compliance with these rules.

Case details

Manoj v State of Madhya Pradesh | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 510 | CrA 248-250 FROM 2015 | May 20, 2022

Coram: judges Uday Umesh Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi

Counsel: Sr. Adv Anjana Prakash, Adv Shri Singh for callers, AAG Swarupama Chaturvedi for the State

Summaries

Death sentence – Issued Practice Guidelines for Gathering Mitigating Circumstances from Accused at Trial Stage – Trial Court Must Obtain Information from Accused and State – State Must – For Capital Offense – at the appropriate stage, produce elements which are preferably collected in advance, before the Session Court disclosing the psychiatric and psychological assessment of the accused – The State must, within a specified period, collect additional information concerning the Accused – Information regarding the conduct and behavior of the accused while in prison, work performed (if any), activities in which the accused was involved, and other related details should be requested in the form of a report from the competent prison authorities (paragraphs 213-217)

Criminal trial – Conviction – Public opinion is neither an objective circumstance relating to the crime, nor the criminal, and the courts must exercise judicial restraint and play a balancing role. (Paragraph 227)

Criminal Procedure Code, 1973; Section 235(2) – The sentencing hearing envisaged under Article 235(2) is not limited to a simple oral hearing, but is intended to provide a real opportunity for the prosecution, as well as the accused, to record facts and elements relating to various factors on the question of the sentence and if one or the other of the parties is interested, to call evidence to demonstrate mitigating circumstances to impose a lesser sentence or aggravating reasons to impose the death sentence. (Para 205 -212)

Criminal trial Draft Criminal Practice Rules, 2021- The Crown, in the interests of fairness, should as a general rule in all criminal trials provide a list of statements, documents, material objects and exhibits on which the investigator is not relying. The presidents of the criminal courts ensure compliance with these rules. (Paragraph 179)

Criminal Procedure Code, 1973; Article 24 – Public Ministry – A public prosecutor holds a statutory office of high esteem. Rather than a part of the investigative body, they are more of an independent statutory authority that serves as an officer in court. The role of the prosecution is inherently devoted to the conduct of a fair trial, and not to a “lust for a conviction”. (Paragraphs 171 – 177)

Criminal Investigation – Test Identification Parade – TIPs should normally be performed as soon as possible to eliminate the risk of the accused being shown to witnesses before the line-up, which could otherwise affect the memory of those witnesses – There is no hard and fast rule that delays or fails to keep the TIP ipso facto renders the evidence inadmissible or unacceptable; however, this affects the credibility and weight attached to such identification. (Paragraph 100)

Criminal Trial – DNA Reports – The need to ensure the quality of the tests and to eliminate the possibility of contamination of the evidence – Being an opinion, the probative value of this evidence must vary from one case to another – This tribunal relied on DNA reports in the past when trying to establish the guilt of an accused. Notably, the trust was to corroborate. (Paragraph 121)

Criminal Trial – Circumstantial Evidence– Principles applicable to the assessment of evidence in cases involving circumstantial evidence under consideration. [Referred to Sharad Birdi Chand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra (1984) 4 SCC 116 et al.] (149-151)

Criminal trial – The omission of some of the prosecution witnesses to mention a particular fact, or to corroborate something, which is testified by other witnesses, does not therefore ipso facto favor an accused. What matters, however, is whether the failure to testify to a fact is so fundamental that the prosecution’s version becomes flimsy and incredulous – unless it is shown that the failure to question a witness, who had previously participated in the investigation and whose statement was recorded by the police, compromises the prosecution case or significantly affects the basis of the fact or facts sought to be determined to prove, remains unshakable as long as this fact is deposed or evoked by other witnesses, whose testimonies are to be seen in their own terms. Therefore, the failure to interview those left behind, but who the prosecution claims had participated in the investigation, did not affect its case, in terms of the circumstances it held to be established. (Paragraphs 159-161)

Summary – The appellants’ conviction under Article 302 of the ICC was upheld but the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment for a minimum term of 25 years.

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