Dalbir Kaur & Ors. v. State Of Punjab

After reading this judgement, the readers will be able to differentiate between an independent witness and interested witness and will also learn the Supreme Court's stance on procedure during criminal appeals.
CITATION1977 AIR 472
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice A.C. Gupta
DATE OF JUDGEMENT20.08.1976

Introduction

The appeal was brought before the Supreme Court with a question relating to procedure of a Court of Criminal Appeal. The Court in this case has also elucidated the term “Interested Witness” along with focusing on when there is necessity to examine the independent witnesses; taking the facts of the case into consideration.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: The deceased Ajaib Singh had two sons – Dalbir Singh and Amir Singh. Dalbir Singh along with his wife Mrs. Dalbir Kaur and her brother Ajit Singh and her cousin, Puran Singh were charged with having committed the murder of Ajaib Singh and Amir Singh.

A partition had taken place between Ajaib Singh, Dalbir Singh and Amir Singh. After the partition Dalbir Singh separated and lived in a separate portion of the same house where as Ajaib Singh and Amir Singh lived jointly. Mrs. Jaswant Kaur, the wife of Amir Singh had delivered a child and, therefore, her mother Shiv Kaur was in the house to look after Jaswant Kaur and the child. As the newly born child was not well, both Jaswant Kaur and her mother were awake at that time and electric bulb was burning in the courtyard. Ajaib Singh was sleeping near the stable outside the house and Amir Singh was sleeping in the house. All the male appellants were armed with kirpans (Swords) and Mrs. Dalbir Kaur was armed with datar. They went to the house of Ajaib Singh at about 1.00 A.M. Dalbir Singh had altercation with his father Ajaib Singh and expressed his dissatisfaction over the partition of the lands and asked his father and brother to get ready to meet the consequences and to call anybody for help if they liked. Thereupon killed both of them and threatened Jaswant Kaur and her mother; upon being helpless locked themselves in a room.

Sometime early morning the appellants left the house. Jaswant Kaur narrated the incident to Mukhtiar Singh and Mohinder Singh and ultimately left with Mohinder Singh and lodged the first information report at the police station at 9:00 am.

Issues

The main issues in the case were:

  1. Whether or not the Court in a criminal appeal by special leave enter into a fresh review or re-appraisement of the evidence and examine the question of credibility of witnesses where the two Courts have concurrently found that the prosecution case against the appellants has been proved;
  2. Whether or not it is open to the appellant, once special leave is granted, to argue on questions of fact at the hearing, or is he required to confine his arguments only to the points on which special leave could be granted.
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Summary of court decision and judgment

The Sessions Court convicted the appellants under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced the male appellants to death sentence and to the female appellant to imprisonment for life. In appeals and confirmation proceedings, the High Court confirmed the conviction and sentence imposed by the trial court.

In an appeal by special leave, with regard to the first question of the case, the Court stated the following principles governing the appeal:

  1. That this Court would not interfere with the concurrent findings of fact based on pure appreciation of evidence even if it were to take a different view on the evidence;[1]
  2. That the Court will not normally enter into a re-appraisement or review of the evidence, unless the assessment of the High Court vitiated by an error of law or procedure or is based on error of record, misreading of evidence or is inconsistent with the evidence, for instance, where the ocular evidence is totally inconsistent with the medical evidence and so on;
  3. That the Court would not enter into credibility of the evidence with a view to substitute its own opinion to that of the High Court;
  4. That the Court would interfere where the High Court has arrived at a finding of fact in disregard of a judicial process, principles of natural justice or a fair hearing or has acted in violation of a mandatory provision of law or procedure resulting in serious prejudice or injustice to the accused;
  5. This Court might also interfere where on the proved facts wrong inferences of law have been drawn or where the conclusions of the High Court are manifestly perverse and based on no evidence.[2]

Further the Court explained the term ‘Interested Witness’ by saying that it postulates that the person concerned must have some direct interest in seeing that the 282 accused person is somehow or the other convicted either because he had some animus with the accused or for some other reason. In present case there is no evidence to indicate that either Jaswant Kaur or Shiv Kaur bore any animus against the accused and since the incident took place at midnight inside the house, the only natural witnesses who could be present to see the assault would be Jaswant Kaur and her mother. Thus the evidence of these witnesses cannot be rejected merely on the ground that they were relatives of the deceased. They have given a graphic description of what they saw and the Court did not see any reason to discard the assessment of both the courts below about these two witnesses. Further there is circumstantial evidence to support the intrinsic evidence given by these two witnesses.

In the case there were two independent witnesses who were corroborated by the medical evidence and the evidence of the recovery of the weapons at the instance of the appellants themselves. The fact of non-examination of Mohinder Singh is immaterial because the question of bulb was a minor matter. Non-examination of Mohinder Singh would not out-weigh the evidence given by the eye-witnesses corroborated by the sketch and photographs.[3]

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To answer the second question the Court relied on a decided case of Hem Raj where the Court held that unless it is shown that exceptional and special circumstances exist that substantial and grave injustice has been done and the case in question presents features of sufficient gravity to warrant a review of the decision appealed against, this Court does not exercise its overriding powers under article 136(1) of the Constitution and            the circumstance that because the appeal, has been admitted by special leave does not entitle the appellant to open out the whole case and contest all the findings of fact and raise every point which could be raised in the High Court. Even at the final hearing only those points can, be urged which are fit to be urged at the preliminary stage when the leave to appeal is asked for.[4]

The result of the case was that appeal of Ajit Singh was allowed and the sentence imposed on him was set aside by the Supreme Court, as the Judges agreed that Ajit Singh must be given the benefit of doubt where there is no conclusive evidence against him.

The appeals of Dalbir Singh, Puran Singh and Dalbir Kaur were dismissed and the convictions and sentences imposed on them by the High Court and Sessions Court were affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Analysis

The Supreme Court of India under Articles 132 – 134 is entitled to appellate jurisdiction for regular appeals from the decisions of High Courts, furthermore under Article 136 the Supreme Court is vested with residuary power to interfere in the decisions of High Court outside the purview of Article 132-134 and also of any other Court or Tribunal within the territory of India.

Generally the Supreme Court will not grant special leave, unless it is shown that

  1. Exceptional and special circumstances exist,
  2. Substantial and grave injustice has been done and
  3. The case in question presents features of sufficient gravity to warrant a review of the decision appealed against.

This appeal can be filed against any judgment or decree or order of any high court /tribunal in the territory of India, or it can be filed in case a high court refuses to grant the certificate of fitness for appeal to Supreme Court of India.

Appeal to Supreme Court is not a matter of right but it is a matter of privilege which only the Supreme Court will grant to any individual if there exists an important constitutional or legal issue involved.[5] Appeals are regulated by the Constitution of India and Supreme Court Rules, 2013. In the present case the Court relied on many previously decided cases and laid down principles as to when the apex court will interfere into the matter under special leave petition.

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The dissenting opinion of Justice Gupta is this case holds a crucial point, where he agrees with the final decision of the case but shows his disapproval on the definite confinement of principles laid down in regards to when the Supreme Court can interfere through special leave petition. The J. Gupta said: “The decisions of this Court referred to in the Judgment of my learned brother lay down that this Court does not interfere with the findings of fact unless it is shown that “substantial and grave injustice has been done”. But whether such injustice has been done in a given case depends on the circumstances of the case, and I do not think one could catalogue exhaustively all possible circumstances in which it can be said that there has been grave and substantial injustice done in any case. In the appeals before us the findings recorded by the trial court and affirmed by the High Court do not disclose any such exceptional and special circumstances as would justify the claim made on behalf of the appellants whose appeals we propose to dismiss that there has been a failure of justice in these cases.”

In relation to the term ‘Interested Witness’ the Court; in my opinion has rightly held that both Mrs. Jaswant Kaur and her mother were the only natural witnesses according to the facts and circumstances of the case and thus disregarding their statement on the ground that they are the close relatives would have been injustice to them.

Conclusion

The result of the case is appropriate according to my conscience and the Court has followed the procedure and principles enshrined in our legal system to deliver a sound judgment.

It has been repeatedly seen that Article 136 of the Constitution has been violated by the appellants which is creating unnecessary burden or clog in the judiciary, thus it is important for the apex court to restrict special leave petitions and as said earlier the SLP is not a matter of right but privilege conferred by the Supreme Court by exercising its discretionary power. Thereby I would say that the scope of Article 136 must be restricted but not ignorant to deliver justice.


[1] Pritam Singh vs. State [1950] SCR 453.

[2] Nargun Sunder Das Godeia and  others  v. State of Rajasthan [1970] 1 SCC 794.

[3] Sahai Ram v. State of U.P. A.I.R. 1973 S.C. 618.

[4] Hem Rai v. State of Ajmer [1954] SCR  1133.

[5] Kunhayammed & Ors v. State of Kerala &Anr 2000(6) SCC 359.