: A person, accused of a criminal offence, must be acquitted honourably and not by being given the benefit of doubt if none of the prosecution witnesses, including the supposed victim, had deposed against him and there was also no other material to prove his guilt, the Madras High Court Bench here has said.

Justice M. Venugopal made the observation while allowing a criminal revision petition filed by an aspirant to the post of police constable to modify an observation made by a lower court that the petitioner was acquitted from a criminal case by according him the benefit of doubt. He modified the observation to read that he would stand acquitted honourably. The judge agreed with the petitioner’s counsel R. Anand that the lower court’s observation, if allowed to continue without modification, would create a stigma on the petitioner for life. It would affect his employment prospects especially in disciplined forces such as the police department where an honourable acquittal is a must to be considered for recruitment.

Detailing the facts of the case, the judge said that the Chinnakovilankulam police in Tirunelveli district had booked the petitioner, A. Stephen Raj, under Sections 294b (uttering obscene words), 323 (causing hurt voluntarily) and 506 part I (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code on the basis of a complaint lodged by two individuals. However, during trial, both the key witnesses turned hostile and did not tell the court that the accused had either abused them with obscene words or caused a simple injury.

They also said nothing about the alleged criminal intimidation. Yet, a Judicial Magistrate in Sankarankovil acquitted him by according the benefit of doubt and hence the present petition.