What is the difference between a suspect and accused? Does a suspect have the right to defend himself before the trial court?
These questions had resulted in the difference of opinion between a division bench of the high court hearing a petition filed by retired IPS officer and Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) chairman Gyanchand Verma in connection with an alleged paper leak scam (see box) last week.
Verma sought that his name be removed from the four supplementary charge sheets — from the sixth supplementary charge sheet filed in June 2004 to the ninth filed in March 2006 — in the MPSC scam. He claimed that he was victimised by then investigating officer Sudhakar Pujari.
The two-bench court was divided on the petition. While justice AM Khanwilkar said that “there can be no trial of a person on the assumption that he is a suspect,” justice Bhangale said the investigating officer has to be given a free hand to take the case to a logical conclusion.
In the 102-page judgement made public on January 29, justice Khanwilkar observed that if material collected by the Pujari merely indicates the likelihood of involvement of the person he or she cannot be named as an accused. “A suspect has no means to defend himself during the trial and, thus, would be condemned unheard, much less a fair trial,” he observed.
The suspect would have to be given a chance to explain his position that would amount to pre-trial inquiry, which could be disastrous to trial. Moreover, the final charge sheet can only contain description such as accused who are sent for trial or absconding accused and at best, unknown accused.
Justice Khanwilkar relied on a Supreme Court judgement in favour of senior BJP leader LK Advani. The SC had said that on the observations made (against Advani) in the Sri Krishna Commission’s report on the Babri Masjid demolition, without giving him a chance to explain his conduct, he could get the court to get his name deleted from the alleged offence.
But justice Bhangale observed: “There was no free hand for the investigating officer to effect arrest and investigate the petitioner [Verma] due to differences of opinions between the investigating officer and his superior.”