“The High Court ought to have appreciated that it was dealing with the offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, which offences are against the Society,” the Court said.
A High Court while hearing an appeal against conviction in exercise of its powers as a first appellate court, has to re-appreciate and re-examine the entire evidence on record in detail and also examine the reasoning given by the trial Court while convicting the accused, the Supreme Court held (State of Gujarat v. Bhalchandra Laxmishankar Dave).
An order passed by the High Court acquitting the accused without adverting to the reasons given by the trial court while convicting the accused and without re-appreciating the entire evidence on record in detail cannot be sustained, the top court held.
“So far as the appeal against the order of conviction is concerned, there are no such restrictions and the Court of appeal has wide powers of appreciation of evidence and the High Court has to re-appreciate the entire evidence on record being a First Appellate Court. Keeping in mind that once the Learned Trial Court has convicted there shall not be presumption of innocence as would be there in the case of acquittal,” the Supreme Court said.
In the instant case, the Court noted that the Gujarat High Court had not strictly proceeded in the manner in which a High Court ought to have while dealing with an appeal against an order of conviction.
“On perusal of the impugned judgment and order of acquittal passed by the High Court, we find that, as such, there is no re-appreciation of the entire evidence on record in detail while acquitting the respondent – accused. The High Court has only made general observations on the depositions of the witnesses examined. However, there is no re-appreciation of the entire evidence on record in detail, which ought to have been done by the High Court while dealing with the judgment and order of conviction passed by the trial court,” the Supreme Court noted.
It, therefore, set aside the order of acquittal passed by the Gujarat High Court which had overturned the conviction passed by trial court.
The judgment was rendered by a three-judge Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah.
The Court was dealing with an appeal which was preferred by the State government against the decision of the Gujarat High Curt which acquitted the accused and over turned the decision of the District Judge, who convicted the accused and imposed a punishment of five years with fine for offences under Section 7 and Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The Supreme Court noted that the Special Judge, Bharuch after full-fledged trial and appreciation of the entire evidence on record, had convicted the accused by way of a detailed judgment.
The High Court, in first appeal, however, did not examine the reasoning given by the trial court or re-appreciate the entire evidence, the Supreme Court said.
The Court also proceeded to make a distinction between the manner of exercise of appellate powers by High Court when dealing with appeals against conviction and appeals against acquittal.
“In case of acquittal there is double presumption in favour of the accused. Firstly, the presumption of innocence is available to him under the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved guilty by a competent court of law. Secondly, the accused having secured his acquittal, the presumption of his innocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strengthened by the trial court,” the Court observed.
Therefore, while dealing with the cases of acquittal by the trial court, the appellate court would have certain limitations, the Court said.
However, so far as the appeal against the order of conviction is concerned, there are no such restrictions and the court of appeal has wide powers to appreciate evidence and the High Court has to re-appreciate the entire evidence on record.
In the instant case, there was no such re-appreciation of the entire evidence on record in detail while acquitting the accused, the Supreme Court said.
“Being the first appellate court, the High Court ought to have re-appreciated the entire evidence on record without any limitation, which might be there while dealing with an appeal against the order of acquittal passed by the trial court,” the Court made it clear.
The approach of the High Court in not dealing with the evidence was patently illegal leading to grave miscarriage of justice, it added.
The Supreme Court, therefore, set aside the judgment of the High Court and remanded the matter back to the High Court to be decided afresh in accordance with the observations made by the Supreme Court in this judgment.