Lack of knowledge of legal principles leads to miscarriage of justice and unnecessary harassment to the parties to the litigation: Patna High Court

A trial judge, having the power to award a death sentence, must have correct knowledge of legal principles and zeal while exercising the most onerous responsibility of taking decision on the life and liberty of person. This was said in the case of Deepak Mahto v State of Bihar [CRIMINAL APPEAL No. 2932 of 2019] by Justice Birendra Kumar in High Court of Judicature at Patna.

The facts of the case are that the Trial judge convicted and sentenced the appellant for an offence under Section 18 of the POCSO Act because the Judge was of the view that this was a case of attempt to commit penetrative sexual assault. An appeal was filed on the grounds that the commission of offence wasn’t proved against the appellant beyond reasonable doubts in the trial Court.

The appellant contended it is a case of “no evidence” since none of the prosecution witnesses produced have supported any allegation against the appellant. Secondly, they contended that the learned trial Judge misunderstood the legal principles and relied upon the statement recorded under Section 154 Cr.P.C. as well as under Section 164 Cr.P.C. for coming to the conclusion that the prosecution has proved the charge against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt.

On the other hand, the State contends that a victim of rape hesitates in disclosing what has happened against her openly at each and every opportunity faced by her and the statement of the prosecutrix would reveal that she has supported her earlier statement given before the police or before the Magistrate. Therefore, she is wholly a reliable witness and corroboration is not the requirement of law. Hence, the judgment of conviction requires no interference.

The court referred to the judgment laid down in R. Shaji v. State of Kerala [(2013)14 SCC 266], where the Supreme Court said that “a proposition to the effect that if statement of a witness is recorded under Section 164 Cr.P.C., his evidence in Court should be discarded, is not at all warranted. As the defence had no opportunity to cross-examine the witness whose statement was recorded under Section 164 Cr.P.C. or under Section 161 Cr.P.C such statements cannot be treated as substantive evidence”.

After closely analyzing the facts of the present case in the background of the ratio laid in the above case, the Court observed that “the trial Court has accepted, the conflicting prosecution case as disclosed in the statement of the prosecutrix under Section 154 Cr.P.C. and under Section 164 Cr.P.C. for recording conviction without appreciating the fact that the aforesaid are not substantive piece of evidences and the evidence brought during trial does not disclose commission of any offence or identity of the perpetrator of the offence. Hence the Court opined that the impugned judgment suffers from non application of the correct principle of law while appreciating the evidence during a criminal trial.

Furthermore, the court said that “Bias and prejudice conjectures and surmises and personal views contrary to the material on the record have no place in the court of law” Hence the impugned judgment was set aside and this appeal was allowed.

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