New Delhi: Courts are expected to be sensitive in cases involving crime against women, the Supreme Court has said while dismissing appeals filed by a man and his mother against their conviction for cruelly treating his wife, who died due to poisoning.
The apex court said it is expected that courts would not allow criminals to escape on account of procedural technicalities, perfunctory investigation or insignificant lacunas in the evidence, otherwise the victims would be totally discouraged by the crime going unpunished.
“The courts are expected to be sensitive in cases involving crime against women,” a bench of Justices J B Pardiwala and Prashant Kumar Mishra said in its verdict delivered on Friday.
The judgement came on the appeals filed by the two convicts challenging a March 2014 order of the Uttarakhand High Court.
The high court had upheld the order of a trial court, which had convicted the husband and mother-in-law of the deceased in the case lodged in 2007.
While the husband, Balvir Singh, was convicted for offences under sections 302 (murder) and 498-A (subjecting a married woman to cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code, the mother-in-law of the deceased was held guilty of the offence under Section 498-A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) of the IPC.
The victim married Singh in December 1997, the apex court noted. In June 2007, her father had filed an application in a magisterial court seeking a direction to the police to lodge an FIR in connection with the death of his daughter under suspicious circumstances in May 2007.
Later, an FIR was registered in the matter and the woman’s husband and mother-in-law were arrested.
During the trial, both of them claimed innocence and said they were implicated in a false case.
Upon being convicted by the trial court, both of them had approached the high court, which affirmed their conviction.
In its verdict, the apex court noted that the cause of death was poisoning.
“We completely rule out the theory of suicide as sought to be put forward on behalf of the appellants,” the bench said.
It also dealt with the issue relating to applicability of Section 106 of the Evidence Act that pertains to the burden of proving fact, especially within knowledge.
Referring to some previous judgements of the Supreme Court, the bench said it is evident that the court should apply Section 106 of the Evidence Act in criminal cases with care and caution.
“It cannot be said that it has no application to criminal cases. The ordinary rule which applies to criminal trials in this country that the onus lies on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused is not in any way modified by the provisions contained in Section 106 of the Evidence Act,” it said.
The apex court said Section 106 of the Act cannot be invoked to make up for the inability of the prosecution to produce evidence of circumstances pointing to the guilt of the accused.
“This section cannot be used to support a conviction unless the prosecution has discharged the onus by proving all the elements necessary to establish the offence,” it said.
The bench noted, “When facts are peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused, the burden is on him to present evidence of such facts, whether the proposition is an affirmative or a negative one”.
Referring to the facts of the case, the bench said it has been established to the satisfaction of the court that the deceased was in the company of her husband at the point of time when something went wrong with her health and therefore, in such circumstances, he alone knew what happened to her until she was with him.
“We take notice of the fact that the appellant-convict (husband) has not explained in any manner as to what had actually happened to his wife more particularly when it is not in dispute that the appellant-convict was in the company of his wife, that is, deceased,” it said.
The bench, however, reduced the sentence of the mother-in-law of the victim to the period already undergone.
She was awarded a two-and-a-half-year imprisonment by the trial court.