The Supreme Court on Thursday held that a State government could not prefer an appeal in a High Court against a trial court order in cases exclusively investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
By giving this ruling, a Bench of Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices R.M. Lodha and B.S. Chauhan granted a major relief to Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi, who challenged the appeals filed by Bihar in the Patna High Court against a trial court verdict acquitting them in disproportionate assets cases, the fallout of the fodder scam. The Bench held that the appeals filed by Bihar were not maintainable.
On December 18, 2006, Special CBI judge Muni Lal Paswan acquitted the couple in the corruption cases in which it was alleged that they amassed assets worth Rs. 46 lakh beyond the known sources of their income when Mr. Prasad was Chief Minister between 1990 and 1997.
Since the CBI did not file an appeal in the High Court, the State government moved it. The High Court, by an interim order on September 20, 2007, held that Bihar's appeal was maintainable. The appeals in the Supreme Court by Mr. Prasad, Ms. Rabri Devi and the CBI are directed against this order.
Justice Lodha, writing the judgment, agreed with senior counsel Ram Jethmalani that the State government was not competent to file an appeal as such a right was the exclusive jurisdiction of the Centre in a matter dealt with by the CBI.
The Bihar government argued that under Section 378 of the Criminal Procedure Code the State would have the right to file an appeal if the CBI did not do so in respect of an offence committed within its jurisdiction. To this, the Bench said, then “we would have to say that no matter that a complaint was not lodged by the State government or its officers; investigation was not done by its police establishment; prosecution was neither commenced nor continued by the State government; a public prosecutor was not appointed by the State government; the State government had nothing to do with the criminal case; all steps from the launching of prosecution until its logical end were taken by the CBI and yet the State government may file an appeal from an order of acquittal under Section 378 (1) of the Cr.PC that would be rendering the exception clause in Section 378 (2) redundant, meaningless and unnecessary.”
Under Section 24 of the Cr.PC, the Centre or the State government could appoint its public prosecutors for conducting the trial, appeal or other proceedings on its behalf and one would have no control over the other. The public prosecutor had to be associated in an appeal against an order of acquittal. In the present case, since the investigation was conducted by the CBI and as its public prosecutor handled the case, it was only the CBI, and not the State government, which could prefer an appeal.