Read Order: Satpal V. Ramphal And Others

Monika Rahar

Chandigarh, March 23, 2022: While dealing with an appeal against the order of acquittal by the Trial Court, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that even though the Appellate Court has the power to re-appreciate the evidence, however, such appreciation is to be done where judgement of the trial Court shows glaring misreading of the evidence and reflects that the conclusions drawn by the trial Court are not sustainable upon a meaningful reading and interpretation of the evidence.

The bench of Justice Vinod S. Bhardwaj also added,  “It is also well settled that the view adopted by the trial Court cannot be superseded by the Appellate Court only for the reasons that other view is also possible.”

It was the complainant’s grievance that that the respondents/ accused set fire on the waste lying in his fields, in order to cause loss to him. The Police initiated action against the accused persons under Section 107/151 CrPC. When the matter reached the Trial Court, the Court upon considering the rival submissions of the parties, concluded that the complainant/applicant failed to prove the charge against the accused persons beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt and accordingly acquitted the respondents of the charge framed against them. 

Hence, the complainant approached the High Court impugning this order of the Trial Court. 

Primarily, the case of the complainant’s counsel was that the evidence of the first prosecution witness (an eyewitness) was completely disregarded by the trial Court, while the testimony of the second prosecution witness was discredited which has caused failure of justice. 

After perusing the witness testimonies, the Court concluded that the witnesses, in spite of being witness of occurrence (as per their claims) failed to attribute any specific role to any accused. The Court also noted that it was highly improbable that the witnesses would not know the time of the incident and would not know anything about such material and fundamental primary details, that would be known to a witness of occurrence. Thus, the Court opined that the testimony of the witnesses did not inspire confidence of the Court. 

Next, the Court went on to look into the scope of interference by a High Court while hearing appeal against acquittal. For this purpose, reference was made to the Supreme Court in M. G. Aggarwal versus State of Maharashtra, AIR 1963 SC 200, and Nagbhushan vs. State of Karnataka, (2021) 5 SCC 212. 

Thus, the position which emerged from the above-stated precedents was summarized by the Court. Firstly, the Court stated that the powers of High Court in dealing with criminal appeals are equally wide whether the appeals are against conviction or acquittal. Secondly, the Court stated that in dealing with appeal against acquittal, the High Court bears in mind that the presumption of innocence is strengthened, and that as an appellate Court, the High Court is generally slow in disturbing the finding of fact recorded by the trial Court, particularly when the said finding is based on an appreciation of oral evidence because the trial Court has the advantage of watching the demeanour of the witnesses who have given evidence. 

Also, the Court added that the interference of the High Court in an appeal against the order of acquittal would be justified only if there are “very substantial and compelling reasons to do so”, and that the appellate court should not ordinarily set aside a judgment of acquittal in a case where two views are possible, even though the view of the appellate court may be the more probable one. Further, the Court added that various expressions, such as, ‘substantial and compelling reasons’, ‘good and sufficient grounds’, ‘very strong circumstances’, ‘distorted conclusions’, ‘glaring mistakes’, etc. are not intended to curtail the extensive powers of an appellate court in an appeal against acquittal. Such phraseologies, asserted the Court, are more in the nature of ‘flourishes of language’ to emphasise the reluctance of an appellate court to interfere with acquittal, than to curtail the power of the court to review the evidence and to come to its own conclusion. 

Lastly, it was adjudged that the findings of fact recorded by a court can be held to be perverse if the findings have been arrived at by ignoring or excluding relevant material or by taking into consideration irrelevant/inadmissible material and that the finding may also be said to be perverse if it is “against the weight of evidence”, or if the finding so outrageously defies logic as to suffer from the vice of irrationality. 

Against this backdrop, the Court concluded that it could not be held that the view adopted by the trial Court was not sustainable based on the facts of the instant case. Also, before departing, the Court opined (As mentioned above) that even though the Appellate Court has the power to re-appreciate the evidence, however, such appreciation is to be done where judgement of the trial Court shows glaring misreading of the evidence and reflects that the conclusions drawn by the trial Court are not sustainable upon a meaningful reading and interpretation of the evidence. 

Thus, the present application for seeking leave to appeal was held to be without any merit. 

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