The High Court of Meghalaya has set aside the judgment of a local court that had convicted a man of triple murder and sentenced him to 14 years’ simple imprisonment despite a medical report that indicated he was psychotic and medically unfit to stand trial.
The High Court also criticised the judges of the district councils and asked the State government to consider their quality and ability before entrusting them with the authority to deal with serious matters.
Meghalaya has three district councils covering areas dominated by as many matrilineal tribes. Each of these councils have courts authorised by the State’s Governor.
On Tuesday, a division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice W. Diengdoh observed that the district council court had “overlooked and deliberately ignored” medical reports while making the triple murder accused stand trial.
The Bench said “it appears that the appellant is of unsound mind” since he was accused of committing the murder of his parents and a sibling. It said several documents revealed the trial could not have taken place as there was a firm medical opinion that he was unfit to stand trial and required treatment.
“Despite such medical status report of March 7, 2012, issued by the Senior Medical and Health Officer, Psychiatrist, Meghalaya Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences (MIMHANS), Shillong, being forwarded to the trial court by the Superintendent of District Jail, Shillong, under cover of a letter dated March 14, 2012, the trial court proceeded to record the statement of the appellant without referring to his mental condition or the medical opinion forwarded to the court,” the Court’s Order said.
The FIR against the appellant was lodged on August 2, 2011, and he was arrested the following day. After initial observation of his health, he was admitted to MIMHANS on September 20 that year.
“His medical status report of March 7, 2012, clearly indicated he was psychotic with no insight of his own illness and was unfit to stand trial as he required long-term treatment to prevent further deterioration,” the Bench said.
The court said the conviction and sentencing of the man by the district council court on September 15, 2014, “without reference to the applicable law and the relevant provision of the Penal Code” cannot be sustained as it does not resemble the outcome of any meaningful or reasonable process of adjudication or indicate the remotest application of mind.
The court ordered the release of the man, sentenced in September 2104 and asked the authorities to admit him to a “proper medical facility” run by the State.
“The matter is remanded to the trial court to be dealt with in accordance with law, particularly keeping in mind the requirements of Section 329 of the Code. The trial court will not resume the trial… till such time an expert opinion is rendered in accordance with law as to the appellant herein being fit to stand trial. In any event, even if the appellant is found fit to stand trial and repeats the confession or admission made earlier, the trial court must look into the evidence and use the confession as another piece of evidence and not the sole material to convict the appellant,” the Order said.
The trial court was asked to be mindful of the statutory mandate and not arbitrarily invent a form of punishment for a particular offence which is unknown to law.