Read Order: Harbhajan Sandhu v. State of Punjab & another

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, February 24, 2022: In a case of abetment to suicide, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that merely being named in a suicide note would not by itself establish the guilt of an accused until the ingredients of the alleged offence are made out.

Regarding the offence of ‘abetment to suicide’, the Bench of Justice Jasjit Singh Bedi held that to constitute abetment, there must be a proximate and live link between the occurrence involving role of the accused and the subsequent suicide, inasmuch as, the instigation or illegal omission or commission by the accused must be the only factor, which subsequently led to the deceased committing suicide.

The prayer in the petition was for quashing of an FIR registered under Sections 306 and 34 IPC along with all the subsequent proceedings arising therefrom, including the report under Section 173(8) of Cr.P.C.

Originally, the deceased was beaten up by the brother-in-law of the petitioner along with others which resulted in a fracture in the nose and he was admitted to Civil Hospital. Resultantly, an FIR was lodged by the deceased against the accused alleging that they assaulted him. However, the present petitioner was not named in the FIR. 

Later on, the deceased was found hanging by his neck in his house. The father of the deceased lodged an FIR. After such lodging of the impugned FIR, a suicide note in the nature of a complaint to the S.H.O. by the deceased was recovered wherein the cause of his death was cited to be the harassment meted out against the deceased by the petitioner, his brother-in-law and others. After investigation, two reports under Section 173(8) Cr.P.C. in the two FIR (including the impugned FIR). 

The petitioner’s counsel argued that the case under Section 306 of the IPC against the petitioner was not made out. Further, he argued that the question of abetment to suicide does not arise as the petitioner was not named in the first FIR. Also, the counsel contended that as per the note, the petitioner approached the deceased in February of 2019 while the suicide was committed after three months thus there was no proximate and live link between the alleged threat of February 2019 and the subsequent suicide. It was also the counsel’s case that there was absolutely no evidence of any contact between the petitioner and the deceased or his family and in the absence of any contact whatsoever there was no question of any threat and consequential abetment. Lastly, it was argued that the cause of death was established. 

The State counsel, while advancing a case for dismissal of the quashing plea, argued that the FIR and the suicide note clearly established that it was the petitioner and his co-accused who was threatening and harassing the deceased, which ultimately led to his death by committing suicide. It was also stated in the reply that the handwriting expert found that the suicide note was authored by the deceased and the cause of death was apparently ‘asphyxia’, due to hanging, which was sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course of nature.

At the outset, the Court looked into a plethora of decisions of the Top Court as also of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to assess the legal position governing the liability of an accused in a case of abetment to suicide of the deceased. After having emphasized the need for having a live and proximate link between the alleged occurrence and the commission of suicide, the Court opined that in the present case, there was not even a remote mention of any date or time when the petitioner committed any overt act except when in February 2019, the petitioner approached the deceased in Civil Hospital where the deceased was admitted after being assaulted by the brother-in-law of the petitioner and other. 

Further, the Court opined that in the FIR and the suicide note the petitioner was allegedly approached the deceased at Civil Hospital, Jalandhar to threaten him and his family members in February 2019, whereas, the deceased committed suicide in May 2019. The Court further added that during the intervening period of three months, there was nothing on record to establish that the petitioner threatened the deceased or his family members in any way. Also, the Court observed that there was in fact no evidence of any contact between the deceased and his family with the petitioner. 

Thus, the Court concluded, “… there is no proximate and live link between the alleged threats given in February, 2019 and the subsequent suicide in May, 2019.”

Another factor that the Court considered was the fact that there was absolutely no positive action on the part of the petitioner accused to instigate or aid in the committing of suicide. From the allegations and from the record, the Court observed that it is not established that the petitioner-accused intended to push the deceased into such a position that he ultimately committed suicide. Issuance of the alleged threats three months prior to the suicide without any positive act of aiding or instigating would not by itself create an offence under Section 306 IPC, the Court added. 

Therefore, the Court adjudged that taking the suicide note to be absolutely correct, the allegations contained therein did not constitute an offence for which the petitioner could be prosecuted.

Thus, finding no live and proximate link between petitioner’s visit in the hospital giving the deceased threats and the subsequent lodging of the FIR, the FIR registered under Sections 306 and 34 IPC, 1860, along with all the subsequent proceedings arising therefrom, was quashed by the Court. 

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