Chandigarh, April 5, 2022: While dealing with an appeal against the order of acquittal of persons accused in a rape case on the ground of significant discrepancies in the prosecution story, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that the burden is upon the prosecution to establish its case beyond the shadows of doubt and no negative burden can be cast upon an accused to prove his innocence.
The Division Bench of Justices Augustine George Masih and Vinod S. Bhardwaj added, “It is also equally well settled that suspicion, how so ever grave, does not partake evidence. The prosecution burden cannot be discharged by referring to circumstances that may create suspicion, rather, the degree of burden to be discharged on the prosecution is much higher than creating a mere suspicion.”
In this case, the accused Gurmeet Singh was alleged to have committed forcible rape upon the prosecutrix in the presence of another accused (Nirmal Singh) who was accompanying Gurmeet Singh. The brother of the complainant filed a complaint against the accused persons leading to the registration of an FIR under Sections 450/363/366/506 read with Section 34 and 376 (D) IPC and Section 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 was registered.
The investigation of the case was verified by the DSP Head Quarter who found the accused Nirmal Singh to be innocent and the final report was filed. After examination of witnesses, the prosecution moved an application under Section 319 Cr.P.C. for the summoning of Nirmal Singh as an additional accused which was allowed and respondent-Nirmal Singh was ordered to be summoned to face trial in the case.
However, after noticing discrepancies/short-comings in the prosecution version and the testimonies of the witnesses to establish the commission of the offence by the respondents in the manner as alleged, the Judge, Special Court, Fatehabad extended the benefit of the doubt in favour of the respondent-accused. Hence, the present appeal was preferred by the complainant-respondent raising a challenge to the judgment of the Special Court, Fatehabad whereby the accused were acquitted of the charges against them.
Upon consideration of the facts and the evidence adduced on record, the High Court was of the view that the judgment passed by the Special Judge was not illegal, perverse or suffering from vice of non-consideration of the evidence in its correct perspective and scope.
On the burden cast upon the prosecution, the Court added that the burden is upon the prosecution to establish its case beyond the shadows of doubt and no negative burden can be cast upon an accused to prove his innocence. The Court added that the questions of fact involved in the case were to be established by the prosecution by leading cogent, reliable, trustworthy and consistent evidence.
The Trial Court pointed out several discrepancies in the prosecution story. It was observed by the Lower Court that the complainant was not an eyewitness to the incident and the only eye witness was the victim whose deposition before the Court was discrepant. The Court also added that there were material improvements in the victim’s deposition when confronted with her statement under Section 164 Cr.P.C.
After pursuing the Trial Court’s decision, the High Court opined that the discrepancies in the evidence could not be held to be minor and/or inconsequential, rather, the said discrepancies were substantial and crucial as they reflected upon the contemporary evidence which was relevant to discern the reaction and behaviour of the prosecutrix as well as the complainant after the commission of the alleged offence.
The Court asserted that a mere delay in registration of a case may not be vital when such delay is suitably explained or a reasonable and satisfactory explanation is offered, however, the explanation tendered in the present case raises more questions than it answers and resulting in doubting the occurrence of the event in the manner suggested.
Further, the Court also opined that suspicion, how so ever grave, does not partake evidence and the prosecution burden cannot be discharged by referring to circumstances that may create suspicion, rather, the degree of burden to be discharged on the prosecution is much higher than creating a mere suspicion.
Thus, the Court reached the conclusion that there was no illegality, infirmity, perversity or non-appreciation of the evidence by the Special Judge, Fatehabad. The judgment passed by the Court was accordingly affirmed and the appeal was dismissed.