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Supreme Court Clears Accused of Bigamy Charges Citing Lack of Sufficient Evidence

Case Title – S. Nitheen & Ors. Vs. State of Kerela & Anr. 2024 INSC 420

Case Number – CRL. Appeal of 2024 Arising out of SLP (CRL.) No. 8529 of 2019

Dated on – 15th May, 2024

Quorum – Justice Sandeep Mehta

FACTS OF THE CASE
In the case of S. Nitheen & Ors. Vs. State of Kerela & Anr. 2024 INSC 420, the Appellant, herein Accused No.1, Ms. Lumina, was the legally wedded wife of the Respondent No.2, Mr. Reynar Lopez, both married as per the customs of the Christianity religion on the 16th of April, 2007. On the 13th of August, 2010, the Accused No.1 allegedly entered a second marriage with Saneesh, the Accused No.2, under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The  other Appellants, herein Accused No.3 (Flory Lopez, Mother), Accused No.4 (Vimal Jacob, Brother), Accused No.5 (S. Nitheen, Friend and witness to marriage), Accused No.6 (P.R. Sreejith, Friend and witness to marriage), Accused No.7 (H. Gireesh, Friend and witness to marriage) are alleged to have had a common intention to commit the offence of bigamy by aiding and abetting the second marriage of the Accused No.1 and the Accused No. 2. On the 28th of May, 2018, the Respondent No. 2 instituted a complaint against the Accused persons under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 to which the Judicial Magistrate First Class, Attingal evaluated the evidences and directed the framing of the charges. Being aggrieved by this, the Appellants instituted a Criminal Revision Petition before the Sessions Judge, Thiruvananthapuram, which was duly dismissed on the 26th of October, 2018. The Appellants further instituted a Criminal Miscellaneous Petition No. 8108/2018 in the High Court of Kerela, which was also duly rejected on the 3rd of July, 2019. Then a Special Leave Petition was instituted by the Appellant in the Supreme Court of India, challenging the order of the High Court and the subsequent proceedings.

ISSUES
The main issue of the case whirled around whether the order of framing charges under the Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 against the Appellants is sustainable lawfully?
Whether there is sufficient evidence to prove the Common Intention under Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860?
Whether the Accused No. 3,4, 5, 6 and 7 had prior knowledge of the First Marriage of the Accused No. 1 and the Accused No. 2 and acted with common intention?
Whether the Prosecution Under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 against the Appellants is justified?
Whether the dismissal of the Criminal Miscellaneous Petition and the Revision Petition was correct?

LEGAL PROVISIONS
Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 prescribes the Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intentions
Section 109 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 prescribes the Punishment of an abetment if the act abetted is committed in consequences and when no express provision is made for its punishment
Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 prescribes the Punishment for Marrying again during life-time of husband or wife
Section 216 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 prescribes the Power of the court to alter charges
Section 244 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 prescribes the Evidence for prosecution

CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT
The Appellant, through their counsel, in the said case contented that the essential ingredients required to establish an offence under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which pertains to the bigamy, are not present in the case set up by the Respondent.
Moreover, there is no evidence to show that the Appellants possessed common intention to commit the offence of bigamy, especially, the prosecution has a failure on its part demonstrate any overt act or omission on the part of the Appellants that would indicate their involvement in the alleged bigamous marriage.
The ruling in the Gopal Lal Vs. State of Rajasthan was cited and the Appellants asserted that only the spouse involved in the second marriage can be charged under the Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code,1860 and that the current charges against the Appellant for having a common intention to commit the bigamy do not stand on solid legal grounds and that including them in the charged under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 without sufficient evidence amounts to a gross abuse of the legal process and causes undue harassment.
The Appellants cited that there is no evidence to suggest that the Accused No. 3 and 4 were present at the time of the marriage and that there is no indication that the Accused No. 5,6 and 7 had knowledge of the Accused No.1’s previous marriage.

CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENT
The Respondent, through their counsel, in the said case contented that the Accused No. 3 and 4 being the close blood relatives and the Accused No. 5,6 and 7 being the friends as well as the witness to the second marriage of the Accused No.1, were aware of her first marriage with the Respondent No.2, but failed to prevent the second marriage and that this omission indicates their complicity and common intention in committing the offence of bigamy, thereby stating them liable for the prosecution under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 r/w the Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
It was asserted that the complaint and the pre-charge evidence sufficiently demonstrated the collusion and common intention of the Appellant in the bigamous marriage. Thus, the prosecution against the Appellants is justifiable and should be proceeded with.
The Respondents, further urged that the contentions made by the Appellants were unfounded and that the orders of the lower courts were correct in rejecting the petition to quash the proceedings and that the need for a full trial to meticulously examining the collusion of the Appellants in the alleged offence.

COURT ANALYSIS AND JUDGMENT
The court in the case of S. Nitheen & Ors. Vs. State of Kerela & Anr. 2024 INSC 420, scrupulously analysed the contentions of both the parties, along with the evidence presented in the case. The court outlined the legal framework pertinent to the case, emphasizing the elements required to establish an offence under the Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 dealing with the offence of bigamy. The court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish the collusion of the Appellants in the bigamous marriage or their common intention to commit the offence of bigamy. The court highlighted the deficiencies in the charges framed against the Appellants and the lack of evidences supporting their prosecution under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The court determined that allowing the proceedings against the Appellants to continue would amount to gross illegality and an abuse of the process of the court. The court, consequently, quashed the orders passed by the High Court and set aside all the proceedings against the Appellant in the Criminal Case No. 791/2013. However, it directed that the trial of the Accused No. 1 and 2 would continue as per the charges against them. The court made no orders as to the costs and disposal of any pending applications in the case.  

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Judgement Reviewed by – Sruti Sikha Maharana

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