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What if the trial court is wrong?

The Supreme Court ruling that state governments cannot challenge the acquittal of accused in cases probed and prosecuted by the CBI raises more questions than it answers, particularly in view of the agency’s questionable track record in dealing with cases involving political bigwigs.

delhi Updated: Apr 02, 2010 00:22 IST

The Supreme Court ruling that state governments cannot challenge the acquittal of accused in cases probed and prosecuted by the CBI raises more questions than it answers, particularly in view of the agency’s questionable track record in dealing with cases involving political bigwigs.

The verdict in the Lalu-Rabri case has serious implications for cases being probed by CBI.

State governments hand over important cases to the CBI hoping for an impartial probe. But what if the CBI does not file an appeal in a case due to political considerations?

This is not a mere suspicion after the CBI admitted before the Supreme Court in 2008 in the Mulayam Singh Yadav case that it took directions from the Centre. “We do not want the CBI to become an instrument in the hands of the Centre,” the court had said.

Further, the agency’s sloppy track record in cases involving politicians does not inspire much confidence in its decision-making process. Examples include not filing appeals against acquittal orders of Delhi High Court in the JMM MPs bribery case and St. Kitts forgery cases involving former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. In the Bofors case, it did not challenge Delhi High Court’s order dropping all corruption charges and quashing all proceedings against the Hinduja brothers.

In the Shashi Nath Jha murder case, the CBI went to the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court order acquitting all the accused, but chose not to challenge the acquittal of JMM leader Shibu Soren.

The SC verdict is based on technicalities of law and does not go into the merits of the trial court verdict. Supposing the trial court wrongly acquitted Lalu-Rabri in the case (trial courts do go wrong in many cases), the SC order would perpetuate that illegality.

Jurist Rajeev Dhavan said, “The special court can’t be the last court to decide such an important issue. Clearly, in a case as important as this one, an appeal was desirable... If the CBI does not file an appeal and the state is shut out on technical grounds, it will be a travesty of justice. It makes a mockery of the appellate system.”

The SC verdict may be legally sound, but justice must not only be done, it must also be seen to be done. The verdict needs to be reviewed.