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Supreme Court rules in favour of court-martialled soldier

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: Shanker Chakravarty

The Supreme Court has upheld a soldier’s appeal against his dismissal from service and a sentence of six months’ rigorous imprisonment as the court martial proceedings against the soldier were conducted without providing him legal assistance.

A Bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah held that the principles of natural justice were violated by denying the soldier a lawyer, especially when he was pitted against his superior commanding officer.

The Army jawan, Jaswant Singh, was accused of assaulting his superior officer and using abusive language against a Subedar who had found him not properly dressed for a parade. Mr. Singh, who was found not guilty of the second charge, was sentenced to six months in a civil jail for misconduct. He has since served the sentence.

The dismissed soldier had moved the apex court after the Armed Forces Tribunal had, in 2012, dismissed his challenge to the court martial. The government had argued that there was no need to provide Mr. Singh a lawyer as that is done only in cases involving the death penalty.

Justice Chandrachud, who wrote the judgment pronounced on December 10, referred to Rule 129 of the Army Rules, 1954, which is titled ‘Friend of accused’. As per this rule, an accused in “any summary court martial” may have a person to assist him during the trial, whether it is a legal advisor or any one else.

“In the present case, the appellant had rendered seven years of service. He was pitted against his Commanding Officer. In the face of Army Rule 129, there was no reason to deny him the benefit of legal representation which he desired at his own expense. For these reasons, we are of the view that there was a clear violation of the principles of natural justice. The prejudice too is evident,” the court observed, while ruling in Mr. Singh’s favour.

The apex court set aside the judgement of the Armed Forces Tribunal and also the decision which had been taken on the basis of the summary court martial.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 6:27:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sc-rules-in-favour-of-court-martialled-soldier/article25790744.ece

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