Courts must be on guard, test evidence meticulously when FIR is delayed: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of India acquitted two people whose conviction and life sentence for the offence of murder in a case lodged in 1989 was affirmed by the Chhattisgarh High Court.

September 07, 2023 12:36 pm | Updated 12:36 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

“Courts must be on guard and test evidence meticulously to rule out possibility of embellishments in the prosecution’s story when an FIR is delayed and there is absence of proper explanation,” the Supreme Court has said.

The apex court acquitted two people whose conviction and life sentence for the offence of murder in a case lodged in 1989 was affirmed by the Chhattisgarh High Court.

A Bench of justices J. B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra noted that the accused were tried for allegedly murdering a man on August 25, 1989, while the FIR in the case was lodged the next day in Bilaspur district.

"When an FIR is delayed, in absence of proper explanation, the courts must be on guard and test the evidence meticulously to rule out possibility of embellishments in the prosecution story, inasmuch as delay gives opportunity for deliberation and guess work," the Bench said in its verdict delivered on September 5.

"More so, in a case where probability of no one witnessing the incident is high, such as in a case of night occurrence in an open place or a public street," it said.

The Bench delivered its verdict on the appeals filed by appellants — Harilal and Parasram —challenging the February 2010 judgment of the high court which had affirmed the July 1991 order of a trial court convicting and sentencing them to life imprisonment for murder.

It noted that three people were tried for allegedly committing the murder and the trial court had convicted all of them.

They had filed separate appeals before the high court challenging their conviction, the Bench noted, adding that proceedings against one of them stood abated consequent to his death during pendency of the appeal.

"In this case, we notice from the record that the trial court as well as the high court while appreciating the evidence have not properly addressed various aspects, namely, (a) there is no clear cut motive proved against the accused except that there was some incident concerning a lady of the village…," the Bench observed.

It said although there might not have been a specific question put to the informant, who was a prosecution witness in the case, as regards the delay in lodging of the FIR, but the fact that "it was a delayed FIR cannot be ignored".

“The Bench observed that the statement of one of the eyewitnesses of the incident was inconsistent with his previous statement. It would be unsafe to rely on his testimony to convict the accused for the offence of murder,” it noted.

"No doubt, different people react differently to a given situation. But if it had truly been an issue between few individuals fighting on the street, natural course of human conduct would be to collect people to solve out issues," the Bench said.

"However, where villagers in general, and none in specific, assault a person accused of his involvement with a lady, it is quite natural for bystanders not to intervene," it said.

The Bench said the prosecution has not been able to convincingly prove the genesis of the crime and the manner in which the murder took place and by whom.

The Bench observed that evidence led by the prosecution gives rise to a strong probability of the killing being a consequence of mob action on the deceased for his alleged involvement with the woman.

"The judgment and order of the high court as well as of the trial court are set-aside. The appellants are acquitted of the charge for which they have been tried," it said, while allowing the appeals.

The apex court noted the appellants are reported to have been released on bail during the pendency of appeal and they need not surrender. "In case they are not on bail, they shall be released forthwith unless wanted in any other case," it said.

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