‘Criminal justice system can be punishment in self’: SC acquits man after 30 yrs | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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‘Criminal justice system can be punishment in itself’: SC acquits man after 30 yrs

Feb 29, 2024 04:31 AM IST

Supreme Court clears man charged with abetting wife's suicide after 30 years, citing lack of evidence.

The criminal justice system can act as a punishment in and of itself, the Supreme Court lamented while clearing a man who had been charged with abetting his wife’s suicide 30 years ago.

When a person is accused of aiding and abetting suicide, the court should seek “cogent and convincing proof” of the act of inciting the suicide, and the offending action should occur close to the time of the incident, the top court held. (HT PHOTO)
When a person is accused of aiding and abetting suicide, the court should seek “cogent and convincing proof” of the act of inciting the suicide, and the offending action should occur close to the time of the incident, the top court held. (HT PHOTO)

“The ordeal for the appellant started sometime in 1993, and is coming to an end in 2024, i.e. almost after a period of 30 years of suffering,” rued a bench of justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, acquitting the man.

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Finding it to be a case of no evidence, the bench said: “We may only observe that the criminal justice system of ours can itself be a punishment. It is exactly what has happened in this case. It did not take more than 10 minutes for this court to reach an inevitable conclusion that the conviction of the appellant convict for the offence punishable under Section 306 of the IPC (abetment to commit suicide) is not sustainable in law.”

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The case remained pending at the top court since December 2008. It was last listed in July 2014. The man, now in his late 50s, has been on bail since May 2009.

The judgment further cautioned courts against drawing a legal inference against the husband and his relatives in all cases where a woman has committed suicide within seven years of the marriage. When a person is accused of aiding and abetting suicide, the court should seek “cogent and convincing proof” of the act of inciting the suicide, and the offending action should occur close to the time of the incident, it held.

In 2008, the Punjab & Haryana high court confirmed the conviction of the man under the charge of goading his wife to take the extreme step in 1993. The prosecution argued that the woman ended her life by consuming poison in November 1993 due to the incessant demands of money by her husband and his relatives.

Ten minutes into hearing the appeal on February 22, the top court concluded that the charge was not made out against the man because there was no evidence to show any kind of persistent abuse or harassment.

“Mere demand of money from the wife or her parents for running a business without anything more would not constitute cruelty or harassment...To prove the offence of abetment, the state of mind to commit a particular crime must be visible, to determine the culpability,” held the bench in its judgment last week.

To establish a charge under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the bench noted, there has to be evidence with regard to the positive act on the part of the accused to instigate or aid to drive a person to commit suicide but there was no evidence of incessant harassment in the present case.

It also delved into interpretation of Section 113A of the Evidence Act, which states that when a woman commits suicide within seven years of marriage, and it is shown that her husband or any relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, a court “may” raise a legal presumption that such suicide had been abetted by her husband and his relatives.

The court underlined that the use of the term “may” would indicate that the presumption is discretionary. “From the mere fact of suicide within seven years of marriage, one should not jump to the conclusion of abetment unless cruelty was proved. The court has the discretion to raise or not to raise the presumption, because of the words ‘may presume’. It must take into account all the circumstances of the case, which is an additional safeguard,” it said.

The bench held that the conscience of the court would not be satisfied to find the accused guilty of aiding and abetting suicide if it appeared that the victim was hypersensitive to regular petulance, discord, and differences in domestic life that were quite common in society, and that such discord was not expected to induce an individual in such circumstances to commit suicide.

“In the case of accusation for abetment of suicide, the court should look for cogent and convincing proof of the act of incitement to the commission of suicide and such an offending action should be proximate to the time of occurrence...The court must remain very careful and vigilant in applying the correct principles of law governing the subject of abetment of suicide while appreciating the evidence on record. Otherwise, it may give the impression that the conviction is not legal but rather moral,” maintained the bench.

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