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Appellate Court cannot interfere lightly with order of acquittal, Delhi High Court [Read Judgment]
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Appellate Court cannot interfere lightly with order of acquittal, Delhi High Court [Read Judgment]

Meera Emmanuel

The Delhi High Court recently reiterated that an order of acquittal in a criminal case cannot be interfered with lightly by an appellate court. In a judgment passed last week, a Division Bench pointed out that an order of acquittal should only be disturbed if there are substantial and compelling reasons to hold that the trial court was wrong.

The Bench of Justices Manmohan and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal held,

It is also settled law that any acquittal order cannot be lightly interfered with by the Appellate Court, though it has wide powers to review the evidence and to come to its own conclusion. The power to grant leave must be exercised with care and caution because the presumption of innocence is further strengthened by the acquittal of an accused.”

In this regard, the Court relied on the Supreme Court’s judgment in Ghurey Lal v. State of Uttar Pradesh, wherein it was remarked,

The appellate court may only overrule or otherwise disturb the trial court’s acquittal if it has “very substantial and compelling reasons” for doing so.Though the appellate court’s power is wide and extensive, it must be used with great care and caution.” 

The apex Court made the above observation while emphasising that a trial court’s appreciation of the case must be given due weightage, more so when the accused is acquitted. The Court had observed,

“…The accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The accused possessed this presumption when he was before the trial court. The trial court’s acquittal bolsters the presumption that he is innocent.

Due or proper weight and consideration must be given to the trial court’s decision. This is especially true when a witness’ credibility is at issue. It is not enough for the High Court to take a different view of the evidence. There must also be substantial and compelling reasons for holding that the trial court was wrong.

Similar observations were also made by Justice Manmohan, one of the judges deciding the instant case, in the earlier Delhi High Court judgment in Niraj v. Ramesh Pratap Singh

Applying these principles, the Bench proceeded to uphold the acquittal of a man accused in a case registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The case at hand involved allegations that the man had made forceful sexual advances against a minor girl, who was around 17 years old at the time of the incident. However, the girl told the police and the trial court that she had left with the accused of her own free will and that she had misled him to believe that she was a major i.e. that she was 18 years of age. The two had eloped after the girl’s 12th Board Exam in 2015 and had intended to get married.

The trial court had acquitted the accused on two broad grounds. The court found that it could not be held with certainty that the girl was a minor on the day she left home with the accused. Secondly, there was no element of the accused “taking away” or enticing the girl, as evident from the girl’s deposition.

Before the High Court, the Additional Public Prosecutor contended that since the girl is a minor, her consent to accompany the accused and have physical relations with him was of no consequence.

The Bench, however, disagreed, opining that no offence would lie since the accused was misled into believing that the girl was 18 years of age. This, the Court observed, meant that he did not intend to commit the offences charged against him. As noted in the Court’s judgment,

A perusal of the aforesaid statement of the prosecutrix shows that she had misrepresented her age to be eighteen years to the respondent-accused. She had categorically stated that had she not done so, the respondent- accused would not have allowed her to accompany him….

Though this Court is in agreement with the contention of learned APP for State that the prosecutrix was a minor on the date of the incident, yet the element of mens rea, which is an essential ingredient of Sections 363/366/376 IPC is missing. In the present case, it is only because of a misrepresentation by the prosecutrix with regard to her age, which the respondent-accused bonafidely believed to be true that he allowed her to accompany him.

In fact, the statement of the prosecutrix clearly negates any charge including Section 6 of POSCO. Consequently, as the respondent-accused had not knowingly committed any offence, none of the charges can be said to have been proven.

It, therefore, proceeded to uphold the trial court’s acquittal of the accused, stating,

In view of the above, the present leave petition, being bereft of merit, is dismissed.

[Read the Judgment]

Delhi-HC-Appellate-Court-powers-following-trial-court-acquittal-Mens-rea-in-offences-under-POCSO-Act-Judgment.pdf
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