Legal Blog: Scope and Ambit of Appeal against Acquittal : The Law

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Scope and Ambit of Appeal against Acquittal : The Law

The Supreme Court in Inspector of Police, Tamil Nadu v. John David has discussed the scope and ambit of powers of the appellate court in an appeal against acquittal. While discussing various judicial precedents on the topic, the Court held as under;

APPEAL AGAINST ACQUITTAL


12. Before we enter into the merit of the case, we are required to deal with the contention of the counsel appearing on behalf of the respondent regarding the scope and ambit of an appeal against acquittal. Various decisions of this Court have dealt with the issue very extensively. Therefore, it would be suffice, if we extract few decisions of this Court laying down the law in this regard.

13.In the case of State of U.P. v. Ram Sajivan & Ors. reported at (2010) 1 SCC 529, one of us (Bhandari, J.) detailed the law in this regard as follows: -

"46. ................. This Court would ordinarily be slow in interfering in order of acquittal. The scope of the powers of the appellate court in an appeal is well settled. The powers of the appellate court in an appeal against acquittal are no less than in an appeal against conviction.

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In Chandrappa v. State of Karnataka this Court held: (SCC p. 432, para 42)

"(1) An appellate court has full power to review, reappreciate and reconsider the evidence upon which the order of acquittal is founded.

(2) The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 puts no limitation, restriction or condition on exercise of such power and an appellate court on the evidence before it may reach its own conclusion, both on questions of fact and of law.

(3) Various expressions, such as, `substantial and compelling reasons', `good and sufficient grounds', `very strong circumstances', `distorted conclusions', `glaring mistakes', etc. are not intended to curtail extensive powers of an appellate court in an appeal against acquittal. Such phraseologies are more in the nature of `flourishes of language' to emphasise the reluctance of an appellate court to interfere with acquittal than to curtail the power of the court to review the evidence and to come to its own conclusion.

(4) An appellate court, however, must bear in mind that in case of acquittal, there is double presumption in favour of the accused. Firstly, the presumption of innocence is available to him under the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved guilty by a competent court of law. Secondly, the accused having secured his acquittal, the presumption of his innocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strengthened by the trial court.

(5) If two reasonable conclusions are possible on the basis of the evidence on record, the appellate court should not disturb the finding of acquittal recorded by the trial court."

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In Ghurey Lal v. State of U.P., one of us (Bhandari, J.) summarised the legal position as follows in paras 69 and 70: (SCC p. 477)

"69. The following principles emerge from the cases above:

1. The appellate court may review the evidence in appeals against acquittal under Sections 378 and 386 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. Its power of reviewing evidence is wide and the appellate court can reappreciate the entire evidence on record. It can review the trial court's conclusion with respect to both facts and law.

2. The accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The accused possessed this presumption when he was before the trial court. The trial court's acquittal bolsters the presumption that he is innocent.

3. Due or proper weight and consideration must be given to the trial court's decision.

This is especially true when a witness' credibility is at issue. It is not enough for the High Court to take a different view of the evidence. There must also be substantial and compelling reasons for holding that the trial court was wrong.

In a recently delivered judgment of this Court in State of U.P. v. Banne, one of us (Bhandari, J.) summarised the entire legal position and observed that this Court would be justified in interfering in the judgment of the High Court in the following circumstances which are illustrative and not exhaustive: (SCC p. 286, para 28)

"(i) The High Court's decision is based on totally erroneous view of law by ignoring the settled legal position;

(ii) The High Court's conclusions are contrary to evidence and documents on record;

(iii) The entire approach of the High Court in dealing with the evidence was patently illegal leading to grave miscarriage of justice;

(iv) The High Court's judgment is manifestly unjust and unreasonable based on erroneous law and facts on the record of the case;

(v) This Court must always give proper weight and consideration to the findings of the High Court;

(vi) This Court would be extremely reluctant in interfering with a case when both the Sessions Court and the High Court have recorded an order of acquittal."

This Court would be justified in interfering with the judgment of acquittal of the High Court only when there are very substantial and compelling reasons to discard the High Court decision. When we apply the test laid down by this Court repeatedly in a large number of cases, the irresistible conclusion is that the High Court in the impugned judgment has not correctly followed the legal position."

14.In another decision of this Court in the case of Sannaia Subba Rao & Ors. Vs. State of A.P. reported at 2008 (17) SCC 225, one of us, has referred to and quoted with approval the general principles while dealing with an appeal against acquittal, wherein, it was clearly mentioned that; the appellate court has full power to review, relook and re-appreciate the entire evidence based on which the order of acquittal is founded; further it was also accepted that the Code of Criminal Procedure puts no limitation or restriction on the appellate court to reach its own conclusion based on the evidence before it.

15.In the case of Sidhartha Vashisht alias Manu Sharma v. State (NCT of Delhi) reported at (2010) 6 SCC 1 this court held as follows: -

"27. The following principles have to be kept in mind by the appellate court while dealing with appeals, particularly against an order of acquittal:

(i) There is no limitation on the part of the appellate court to review the evidence upon which the order of acquittal is founded.

(ii) The appellate court in an appeal against acquittal can review the entire evidence and come to its own conclusions.

(iii) The appellate court can also review the trial court's conclusion with respect to both facts and law. 

(iv) While dealing with the appeal preferred by the State, it is the duty of the appellate court to marshal the entire evidence on record and by giving cogent and adequate reasons set aside the judgment of acquittal.

(v) An order of acquittal is to be interfered with only when there are "compelling and substantial reasons" for doing so. If the order is "clearly unreasonable", it is a compelling reason for interference.

(vi) While sitting in judgment over an acquittal the appellate court is first required to seek an answer to the question whether findings of the trial court are palpably wrong, manifestly erroneous or demonstrably unsustainable. If the appellate court answers the above question in the negative the order of acquittal is not to be disturbed. Conversely, if the appellate court holds, for reasons to be recorded, that the order of acquittal cannot at all be sustained in view of any of the above infirmities, it can reappraise the evidence to arrive at its own conclusion.

(vii) When the trial court has ignored the evidence or misread the material evidence or has ignored material documents like dying declaration/report of ballistic experts, etc. the appellate court is competent to reverse the decision of the trial court depending on the materials placed."

16.Therefore, one of the settled position of law as to how the Court should deal with an appeal against acquittal is that, while dealing with such an appeal, the appellate Court has no restriction to review and relook the entire evidence on which the order of acquittal is founded. On such review, the appellate Court would consider the manner in which the evidence was dealt with by the lower Court. At the same time, if the lower Court's decision is based on erroneous views and against the settled position of law, then such an order of acquittal should be set aside.

17.Another settled position is that, if the trial Court has ignored material and relevant facts or misread such evidence or has ignored scientific documents, then in such a scenario the appellate court is competent to reverse the decision of the trial court.

18.Therefore keeping in mind the aforesaid broad principles of the settled position of law, we would proceed to analyse the evidence that is adduced and come to the conclusion whether the decision of the High Court should be upheld or reversed.

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