The Supreme Court has expressed its concern and anguish over the number of acquittals taking place in the country and said “Every acquittal should be understood as a failure of the justice delivery system in serving the cause of justice.”

A Bench of Justices C.K. Prasad and J.S. Khehar said “the person concerned may have to suffer periods of incarceration for different lengths of time. They (accused) suffer captivity and confinement most of the times (at least where they are accused of serious offences), till the culmination of their trial. In case of their conviction, they would continue in confinement during the appellate stages also, and in matters which reach the Supreme Court, till the disposal of their appeals by this Court. By the time they are acquitted at the appellate stage, they may have undergone long years of custody. When acquitted by this Court, they may have suffered imprisonment of 10 years, or more. When they are acquitted (by the trial or the appellate court), no one returns to them; what was wrongfully taken away from them.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Khehar said “The system responsible for the administration of justice is responsible for having deprived them of their lives, equivalent to the period of their detention. It is not untrue, that for all the wrong reasons, innocent persons are subjected to suffer the ignominy of criminal prosecution and to suffer shame and humiliation. Just like it is the bounden duty of a court to serve the cause of justice to the victim, so also, it is the bounden duty of a court to ensure that an innocent person is not subjected to the rigours of criminal prosecution.”

The bench said “every acquittal should ordinarily lead to the inference that an innocent person was wrongfully prosecuted. It is therefore, essential that every State should put in place a procedural mechanism in six months, which would ensure that the cause of justice is served, which would simultaneously ensure the safeguard of interest of those who are innocent.” The Bench passed the order while acquitting Kishanbhai of Gujarat, accused of raping and killing a six-yea-old girl for a consideration of Rs. 1,000 on the ground that there were many lapses in the probe.

The Bench directed the Home Department of every State to examine all orders of acquittal and to record reasons for the failure of each prosecution case. It said “A standing committee of senior officers of the police and prosecution departments should be vested with aforesaid responsibility. The consideration at the hands of the above committee should be utilised for crystallising mistakes committed during investigation, and/or prosecution, or both.”

It said “The Home Department of every State Government will incorporate in its existing training programmes for junior investigation/prosecution officials’ course-content drawn from the above consideration. This would ensure that those persons who handle sensitive matters concerning investigation/prosecution are fully trained to handle the same. Thereupon, if any lapses are committed by them, they would not be able to feign innocence, when they are made liable to suffer departmental action, for their lapses. On the culmination of a criminal case in acquittal, the concerned investigating/prosecuting official(s) responsible for such acquittal must necessarily be identified. A finding needs to be recorded in each case, whether the lapse was innocent or blameworthy. Each erring officer must suffer the consequences of his lapse, by appropriate departmental action, whenever called for. Taking into consideration the seriousness of the matter, the concerned official may be withdrawn from investigative responsibilities, permanently or temporarily, depending purely on his culpability.”

The bench directed the Registry to transmit a copy of this judgment to the Home Secretaries of all State Governments and Union Territories within one week and they were asked to ensure compliance of the directions.

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