‘Don’t get carried away by judges’ views on private forum; go by Indian criminal jurisprudence’

The Supreme Court has cautioned trial courts not to be influenced by the views expressed by judges or academicians on a private platform, while deciding cases and awarding punishment.

“Criminal courts have to decide cases examining the relevant facts and evidence placed before them, applying binding precedents. Judges or academicians’ opinions, predilection, fondness, inclination, proclivity on any subject, however eminent, shall not influence the decision- making process, especially when judges are called upon to decide a criminal case which rests only on the evidence adduced by the prosecution as well as defence and [be] guided by settled judicial precedents,” said a Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra while quashing life imprisonment awarded by the Madras High Court to an appellant, Omprakash.

The trial court had imposed the death sentence on him and another accused for robbery and murder. One of them died while the appeal was pending in the High Court.

Writing the judgment, Justice Radhakrishnan said: “The sessions court had gone astray in referring to the views expressed by the then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in a lecture delivered at Madurai, which advice, according to the sessions judge, was taken note of by another High Court judge in delivering a judgment on a rowdy panchayat system. The sessions judge has stated he took into consideration that judgment and the provision in Section 396 of the Indian Penal Code to hold that the accused had committed murder and deserved the death sentence.

‘Casual approach, ignorance’

“Further, the trial court had opined that imposition of the death sentence under Section 396 IPC is the only weapon in the hands of the judiciary under the prevailing law to help eliminate the crime and the judgment of the trial court should be on that ground. We cannot countenance any of the reasons which weighed with the sessions judge in awarding the death sentence. The reasons...expose the ignorance of the judge of the criminal jurisprudence of this country.”

The Bench said: “We are disturbed by the casual approach of the sessions court. The ‘special reasons’ [that] weighed with the trial judge, to say the least, were only one’s predilection or inclination to award the death sentence, purely judge-centric. The trial judge has not discussed the aggravating or mitigating circumstances of this case, the approach was purely ‘crime-centric’. We are really surprised to note the ‘special reasons’ wherein he referred to the law prevailing in Arab countries like imposing a sentence of ‘slashing’, beheading, taking organ for organ like ‘eye for eye’, ‘tooth for tooth,’ and says those are the developments of criminal jurisprudence…The judge lost sight of the fact that the criminal jurisprudence of this country or our society does not recognise those types of barbaric sentences.”

Parochial attitude

On the trial judge’s reasoning that the accused came from Rajasthan, the Bench said: “We are not concerned with whether the criminals have come from 20 or 2000 km away. The trial judge says they have come to “our State,” forgetting the fact that there is nothing like ‘our State’ or ‘your State’. Such parochial attitude shall not influence or sway a judicial mind. The trial judge has further stated, since the accused had come from a far away State, about 2000 km to ‘our State’ for committing robbery and murder, the death sentence would be imposed on them.”

The Bench said that as Omprakash had already served a jail sentence for more than eight years, “we set him at liberty forthwith.”

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