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Trial judge to ascertain truth, not act as recording machine
Dinesh Kumar Vs The State of Haryana
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 530 OF 2022
About/from the judgment:
The Supreme Court has said that a presiding judge of a criminal trial is not to watch the proceedings as a spectator or a recording machine but he has to participate in the proceedings by evincing intelligent active interest and by putting questions to witnesses in order to ascertain the truth.
A bench set aside concurrent findings of the Punjab and Haryana High Court as well as a trial court, which held Dinesh Kumar guilty of murder of Gurmail Singh of district Yamuna Nagar in May, 2000 with sentence of life term, in view of weak evidences of last seen and recovery of articles of the deceased and the failure of the prosecution to prove the motive.
The court noted that the trial judge here himself indirectly admitted to weakness of the trial as 'Roger mortis' was present in the body of the deceased after 90 hours which was unusual.
"Under Section 165 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a trial judge has tremendous powers to “ask any question he pleases, in any form, at any time, of any witness, or of the parties about any fact relevant or irrelevant”. It is in fact the duty of the trial judge to do so if it is felt that some important and crucial question was left from being asked from a witness. The purpose of the trial is after all to reach to the truth of the matter," the bench said.
According to the prosecution, the deceased left his house on May 8, 2000 to meet his sister but never returned. An FIR was lodged on May 11, 2000 by his brother, who claimed his neighbour Karanjit Singh had seen the deceased with two accused Mange Ram and Dinesh. He alleged the two are vagabonds and must have kidnapped his brother to rob him of his tractor.
The body of the deceased recovered next day from a canal and the post mortem revealed the death was caused due to asphyxia.
Upon arrest, the two accused led the police to alleged recovery of tractor from Saharanpur and other articles belonging to the deceased.
In the instant case, the court noted long gap between the last seen and possible time of the death, which was lost sight of by the High Court and the trial court.
"Where time gap between the last seen and time of death is long enough, as in the present case, then it would be dangerous to come to the conclusion that the accused is responsible for the murder," it said.
"Even if we take the time between the last seen and the approximate time of death as per the post¬mortem, which would go beyond 48 hours preceding the time of post-mortem and the time of death can be stretched to the morning of May 9, 2000, which still begs an explanation from the prosecution as to the time gap, as the deceased was last seen with the two accused on 08.05.2000 at 7:00 P.M," the bench pointed out.
With regard to recovery of tractor, the court noted that it was already disclosed by the co-accused, since expired, at the time of arrest of the appellant.
"In a criminal trial, the prosecution has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt...We are afraid the prosecution has not been able to discharge this burden," the bench said, ordering the release of the appellant, if not required in any other case.
The court also said in a case of circumstantial evidence, the prosecution is enjoined with heavy duty to complete the chain with each factor standing on firm grounds pointing to guilt of the accused only and none else.
"In a case where there is no direct eye witness to the crime, the prosecution has to build its case on the circumstantial evidence. It is a very heavy burden cast on the prosecution. The chain of circumstances collected by the prosecution must complete the chain, which should point to only one conclusion which is that it is the accused who had committed the crime, and none else. Each evidence which completes the chain of evidences must stand on firm grounds," the bench said.
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