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Accused cannot go unrepresented in Court, Supreme Court reiterates [Read Order]

Meera Emmanuel

The Supreme Court was recently constrained to reiterate that legal counsel has to be appointed by the Court to represent an accused, where such accused is unrepresented. An order emphasising this obligation was passed last week in the matter of Shaik Mukthar v State of Andhra Pradesh now State of Telangana.

The Bench of Justices MM Shantanagoudar and R Subhash Reddy observed,

“It is by now well settled by a catena of judgments such as the decision of this Court in Rakesh & Anr V. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2011(12) SCC 512, that it is in the interest of justice to appoint an amicus curiae to assist the court where the accused is unrepresented. The Court may also refer the matter to the Legal Services Committee, which may appoint an advocate to represent the accused.”
Supreme Court

In the case before it, however, the Bench found that the Hyderabad High Court had erred in not carrying out any of these measures to ensure that the accused before it were duly represented by a lawyer. The Supreme Court’s order observed,

“The High Court, unfortunately, has not chosen to either appoint an Amicus curiae or to refer the matter to the Legal Services Committee requesting it to appoint an advocate. Hence, the matter is fit to be remitted to the High Court.”

The two appellants before the Supreme Court were convicted of dowry harassment, for which they were convicted and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. On appeal, their sentence was reduced to two years. The Supreme Court however took serious note of the fact that the appellants were not heard by the High Court before it affirmed the conviction and imposed the lesser sentence.

We find from the judgment of the High Court that the appellants were not heard in the High Court. The appellants advocate remained absent on the date of hearing. The appellants should not have been penalized for the same.”

While the Bench opined that it is a fit case to be sent back to the High Court, it proceeded to decide the appeal on merits in view of the long pendency of the matter, and given that the appellants had been in custody for 8 months.

On the strength of the testimony given by the minor child, who had testified about the harassment faced by his mother, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction against the two appellants/accused. All the same, on an overall view of other factors involved, the Court reduced the sentence term to the period already undergone ad ordered the release of the appellants.

However, having regard to the entire material on record as well as under the facts and circumstances of this case, we are of the considered view that the interest of justice will be met in case the sentence imposed upon these appellants is reduced to the period already undergone.”

[Read the Order]

Shaik Mukthar v State of Andhra Pradesh, now State of Telangana.pdf
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