Erring police officials should be punished if accused acquitted: SC

New Delhi: Every acquittal in a criminal case should be understood as a failure of the justice delivery system and in serving the cause of justice, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said directing the government to punish investigating officers in such cases.
A bench of justices C K Prasad and J S Khehar expressed concern over the growing number of acquittals due to poor investigation and directed all state governments to put in place a mechanism within six months for proper training of its officers to ensure the accused is punished and at the same time innocent persons are not framed in criminal cases.
“Every acquittal should be understood as a failure of the justice delivery system, in serving the cause of justice. Likewise, every acquittal should ordinarily lead to the inference that an innocent person was wrongfully prosecuted.
“It is, therefore, essential that every state should put in place a procedural mechanism which would ensure that the cause of justice is served, which would simultaneously ensure the safeguarding of interest of those who are innocent,” it said.
The bench directed the Home Department of every state to examine all orders of acquittal and to record reasons for the failure of each prosecution case for finding out mistakes committed during investigation and prosecution.
“On the culmination of a criminal case in acquittal, the concerned investigating/prosecuting official(s) responsible for such acquittal must necessarily be identified. A finding needs to be recorded in each case whether the lapse was innocent or blameworthy. Each erring officer must suffer the consequences of his lapse, by appropriate departmental action, whenever called for,” the bench said.
The apex court directed that all state governments incorporate in its existing training programmes for junior investigation/ prosecution officials course-content drawn from the analysis of such cases.
“We further direct that the above training programme be put in place within 6 months. This would ensure that those persons who handle sensitive matters concerning investigation /prosecution are fully trained to handle the same. Thereupon, if any lapses are committed by them, they would not be able to feign innocence when they are made liable to suffer departmental action for their lapses,” the bench said.
“Accordingly we direct the Home Department of every state government, to formulate a procedure for taking action against all erring investigating/prosecuting officials/officers. All such erring officials/officers identified as responsible for failure of a prosecution case on account of sheer negligence or because of culpable lapses must suffer departmental action.
“The above mechanism formulated would infuse seriousness in the performance of investigating and prosecuting duties, and would ensure that investigation and prosecution are purposeful and decisive. The instant direction shall also be given effect to within 6 months,” the bench said.
The court passed the order while acquitting a person accused of raping and killing of a six-yea-old girl for a mere consideration of Rs 1,000 on the ground that there were many lapses in the probe.
The court also expressed concern over the cases in which people are framed by police and has to spend years behind the bars before being acquitted.
“The system responsible for the administration of justice is responsible for having deprived them of their lives, equivalent to the period of their detention. It is not untrue, that for all the wrong reasons, innocent persons are subjected to suffer the ignominy of criminal prosecution and to suffer shame and humiliation.
“Just like it is the bounden duty of a court to serve the cause of justice to the victim, so also it is the bounden duty of a court to ensure that an innocent person is not subjected to the rigours of criminal prosecution,” it said.
The bench said they feel “crestfallen, heartbroken and sorrowful” for not delivering justice to the girl who was killed due to poor job done by the investigator and perpetrators “must be walking around in Ahmedabad or some other city/town in India, with his head held high”.
“We are trained to adjudicate without taking sides and without being mindful of the consequences. We are required to adjudicate on the basis of well-drawn parameters. We have done all that. Despite thereof, we feel crestfallen, heartbroken and sorrowful. We could not serve the cause of justice to an innocent child. We could not even serve the cause of justice to her immediate family,” the bench said.
“The investigating officials and the prosecutors involved in presenting this case have miserably failed in discharging their duties. They have been instrumental in denying to serve the cause of justice,” it said adding “the perpetrators of horrendous crime, involving extremely ruthless and savage treatment to the victim, have remained unpunished. A heartless and merciless criminal, who has committed an extremely heinous crime, has gone scot-free”.
“He(perpetrator) must be walking around in Ahmedabad or some other city/town in India with his head held high. A criminal on the move. Fearless and fearsome. Fearless now because he could not be administered the punishment he ought to have suffered. And fearsome on account of his having remained unaffected by the brutal crime committed by him. His actions now know of no barriers,” it said.