Read Judgement: Prabhat Kumar Singh vs. State of Bihar & Ors.

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, August 9, 2021: Setting aside a judgment of the Patna High Court as well as the summoning order issued by the Trial Court, the Supreme Court has ruled that a case of medical negligence need not be because of mens rea as intent. 

A Bench of Justice A.M Khanwilkar and Justice Sanjeev Khanna observed that in its opinion, the High Court “was impressed by the fact that there was no evidence regarding mens rea, to show malicious or bad intent. This view taken by the High Court is erroneous. For, when it is a case of medical negligence, it need not be because of mens rea as intent”. 

“Sans mens rea in the above sense also it would still constitute offence of medical negligence,” the Bench ruled.

This observation came pursuant to a complaint filed by the Appellant before the Additional CJM’s Court at Patna against the private respondents for offence punishable under sections 304, 316/34 of the Indian Penal Code

The Trial Court, after recording the evidence of three witnesses produced by the complainant and other materials on record, issue summons to the private respondents, which was later set aside by the High Court. 

“The High Court, in our opinion, completely glossed over the reasons which had weighed with the Trial Court as noted in order dated Dec 24, 2016, but was impressed by the fact that there was no evidence regarding mens rea, to show malicious or bad intent,” said the Division Bench. 

The Apex Court noted that the Trial Court had summoned the private respondents without insisting on medical evidence or examination of professional doctor by the complainant in support of his case made out in the complaint, as required in terms of the exposition of the SC in Jacob Mathew vs. State of Punjab & Anr.

The Top Court, therefore, said it would be appropriate to set aside the judgment of the High Court as well as the summoning order issued by the Trial Court and relegate the parties before the Trial Court for reconsideration of the issue afresh. 

The Division Bench, however, made it clear that the Trial Court may have to call upon the complainant to first examine the professional doctor as witness in support of the case made out in the complaint, and then proceed to consider the matter afresh on its own merits and in accordance with law. 

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