Supreme Court quashes death penalty over ‘hurried trial’ of accused

Court orders fresh look at the case after it finds that the first trial, held over 15 days in 2018, overlooked crucial evidence such as DNA

Updated - October 26, 2023 01:34 am IST

Published - October 25, 2023 07:10 pm IST - NEW DELHI

 A view of Supreme Court, in New Delhi. File

A view of Supreme Court, in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

The Supreme Court has set aside the death penalty of a man in the rape-and murder of an infant, saying the hurried trial of 15 days did not exude an aura of “judicial calm” necessary for an impartial and fair verdict.

The trial of the accused Naveen, a street-dweller, took place between April 27 and May 12 of 2018. The trial overlooked crucial evidence, including DNA proof and examination of the forensic experts. Naveen’s counsel argued his client was not given a proper opportunity to defend himself. It was contended that the death sentence would result in the “deprivation of his life in breach of the procedure established by law”.

A three-judge Bench of Justices B.R. Gavai, P.S. Narasimha and P.K. Mishra ordered the case to be tried afresh. The judgment said the case hinged on circumstantial evidence such as DNA, forensic and viscera reports. Each one of them had to be brought up in trial, examined and confronted by both sides.

Calls for ‘judicial calm’

Justice Mishra highlighted how cases dealing with serious offences should not be tried in a hurry. Such hasty trials were against the “principle of judicial calm”.

“The essence of a fair and impartial trial lies in the steadfast embrace of judicial calm. It is incumbent upon a judge to exude an aura of tranquility, offering a sanctuary of reason and measured deliberation. In the halls of justice, the gavel strikes not in haste, but in a deliberate cadence ensuring every voice, every piece of evidence, is accorded its due weight. The expanse of judicial calm serves not only as a pillar of constitutional integrity, but as the very bedrock upon which trust in a legal system is forged,” the Supreme Court observed.

Defining the term ‘fair trial’, Justice Mishra said it meant “a trial in which bias or prejudice for or against the accused, the witnesses, or the cause which is being tried is eliminated”.

The condemnation of an accused for a crime should only come after following the due process of law. Due process includes a “real” trial, not a sham or a mere farce and pretence.

“Fair hearing requires an opportunity to preserve the process… a hasty trial in which proper and sufficient opportunity has not been provided to the accused to defend himself/herself would vitiate the trial as being meaningless and stage-managed. It is in violation of the principle of judicial calm,” the Supreme Court held.

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