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High Court's power of revision in cases of acquittal by trial court

The Supreme Court of India in the case of Kalu Ahir Vs. Ramdeo Ram, 1974 (1) SCR 130 : AIR 1973 SC 2145 : (1973) 2 SCC 583 : 1973 CriLJ 1404 : 1973 SCC (Cri) 903, 1973 CrLR (SC) 493 has held that an unrestricted right of appeal from acquittal is specifically conferred only on the State and a private complainant is given the right of appeal only when the criminal prosecution was instituted on his complaint and then also subject to special leave by the High Court.

A bench comprising of K.K. MATHEW AND I.D. DUA, JJ. observed that it is only in glaring cases of injustice resulting from some violation of fundamental principles of law by the trial court that the High Court is empowered to set aside the order of acquittal and direct a retrial of the acquitted accused.

From the very nature of this power it should be exercised only in exceptional cases and with great care and caution.

the Judgment said.

The trial court, on a consideration of the evidence, acquitted the appellants of the offences under Ss. 307 and 307/109 I.P.C. The State did not file any appeal against the order of acquittal but the victim invoked the revisional jurisdiction of the High Court, under Ss. 435 and 439 Cr.P.C. The High Court allowed the revision, set aside the acquittal and remitted the case for retrial.

While allowing the appeal the Apex Court, held that a private complainant can only claim a right, in common with all aggrieved parties in a criminal proceeding, to invoke the revisional jurisdiction of the High Court for redress against miscarriage of justice arising from an erroneous order of acquittal; but the High Court’s power in such cases is circumscribed by the provisions of Ss. 417 and 439, Cr.P.C. and also by the fundamental principles of criminal jurisprudence.

Trials are not to be lightly set aside when-such orders expose the accused persons to a fresh trial with all its consequential harassment. The power of revision conferred on the High Court by Ss. 435 and 439 Cr.P.C. is an extraordinary discretionary power vested in the superior court to be exercised in aid of justice.

The High Court has been invested with this power to see that justice is done in accordance with the recognised rules of criminal jurisprudence and that the subordinate courts do not exceed their jurisdiction or abuse the power conferred on them by law.

As a general rule, this power, in spite of the wide language of the sections does not contemplate interference with conclusions of fact in the absence of serious legal infirmity and failure of justice. This power is certainly not intended to be exercised as to one portion of the Criminal Procedure Code conflict with another as would be the case when, in the garb ,of exercising revisional power, the High Court in effect exercises the power of appeal in face of statutory prohibition.

In revision, the High Court is expressly prohibited from converting acquittal into a conviction. It makes it therefore all the more incumbent on the High Court to see that it does not convert the finding of acquittal into one of conviction by the indirect method of ordering a retrial. The High Court when approached by a private party for exercising its power of revision in the case of an order of acquittal should therefore refrain from interfering except when there is a glaring legal defect of a serious nature which has resulted in grave failure of justice.

The High Court is not expected to act as if it is hearing an appeal in spite of the wide language under s. 435 which empowers it to satisfy itself as to the correctness, legality or propriety of a finding, sentence or order and as to the regularity of any proceeding, and also in spite of the fact that under s. 439 it can exercise inter alia the power conferred on a court of appeal under s. 423, Cr. P. C.

The power being discretionary, it is to be exercised judicially and not arbitrarily. Judicial discretion means a discretion which is informed by analogy and disciplined by system.

In the present case the High Court has reweighed the evidence from its own point of view and though it noticed the correct legal position regarding the limits of its jurisdiction to interfere with an order of acquittal, it does not seem to have followed those rules.

The appraisal of the evidence by the trial judge in the instant case is not perfect or free from flaw and a court of appeal may well have felt justified in disagreeing with his conclusions. But it does not follow that on revision by a private complainant the High Court is entitled to reappraise the evidence for itself as if it is acting as a court of appeal and then order a retrial.

The expression of opinion by the High Court on the present evidence with respect to the commission of alleged offence would not binding and would not be relevant in a retrial. But it may nevertheless leave an unconscious impression on the mind of the Court holding the fresh trial.

Enmity between the complainant’s party and the accused is usually a double-edged weapon providing motive both for the offence as well as for false implication. The evidence, in such cases, has to be scrutinised with care so that neither the guilty party escapes on the plea of enmity nor an innocent person gets wrongly convicted on that basis.

Case Law Reference on Revision

  1. D. Stenbens v. Nosibolla, [1951] S.C.R. 284
  2. Jogendranath Jha v. Polailal Biswas, [1951] S. C.R. 676
  3. K. C. Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh, [1963] 3 S.C.R. 412
  4. Mohendra Pratap Singh v. Sarju Singh & Another [1968] 2 S.C.R. 287
  5. U. J. S. Chopra v. State of Bombay, [1956] S.C.R. 94
  6. Chand Aggarwal v. Shanti Bose, 1973 A.I.R. S.C. 799
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