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Parminder Kaur and Ors. Vs. State of Punjab - (Supreme Court) (28 Jul 2020)

Once a plausible version has been put forth in defence at the examination stage, then it is for the prosecution to negate the defense plea



The present Criminal Appeal has been preferred by Appellant impugning the judgment of the High Court through which challenge to a judgment passed by the Additional Sessions Judge, was turned down, thereby confirming conviction of three years rigorous imprisonment and fine of Rs. 2000 under Sections 366A and 506 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 ("IPC"). The judgments of the trial Court and High Court have been elegantly assailed by learned Counsel for the Appellant who contended that, the testimonies of the two star-witnesses, being full of material contradictions, are far from reliable.

It is indisputable that, parents would not ordinarily endanger the reputation of their minor daughter merely to falsely implicate their opponents, but such cliches ought not to be the sole basis of dismissing reasonable doubts created and/or defences set out by the Accused.

Similarly, the five-day delay in registration of the FIR, in the facts and circumstances of this case, gains importance as the father of the victim is an eye-witness to a part of the occurrence. It is difficult to appreciate that, a father would await a second incident to happen before moving the law into motion. Sweeping assumptions concerning delays in registration of FIRs for sexual offences, send a problematic signal to society and create opportunities for abuse by miscreants. In the facts of the present case, neither is Section 366A of IPC by itself a sexual offence in the strict sense nor do the inactions of the prosecutrix or her father inspire confidence on genuineness of the prosecution story. No steps were taken to avail of medical examination of the victim, nor was the Panchayat or any social forum approached for any form of redress till the occurrence of the second alleged incident.

Ordinarily, the Supreme Court ought not to re-appreciate evidence. However, where the Courts below have dealt with the material-on-record in a cavalier or mechanical manner which is likely to cause gross injustice, then this Court in such exceptional circumstances may justifiably re-appraise the evidence to advance the cause of justice.

The trial Court has summarily disregarded the contradictions highlighted by the defense side, on the premise that, such contradictions had no material bearing and that there was no reason to disbelieve the prosecutrix. The High Court too has opined that PW-1 and PW-2 have completely corroborated each other and their testimonies were impeccable. These reasons are not only contrary to the record but they also lead to an impermissible reversal of the burden of proof imposed in criminal trials. There are numerous clear contradictions between the testimonies of two star-witnesses, which are fatal to the prosecution case.

Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) after the prosecution closes its evidence and examines all its witnesses, the Accused is given an opportunity of explanation through Section 313(1) (b) of CrPC. Any alternate version of events or interpretation proffered by the Accused must be carefully analysed and considered by the trial Court in compliance with the mandate of Section 313(4) of CrPC. Such opportunity is a valuable right of the Accused to seek justice and defend oneself. Failure of the trial Court to fairly apply its mind and consider the defence, could endanger the conviction itself. Unlike the prosecution which needs to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, the Accused merely needs to create reasonable doubt or prove their alternate version by mere preponderance of probabilities. Thus, once a plausible version has been put forth in defence at the Section 313 of CrPC examination stage, then it is for the prosecution to negate such defense plea.

Proving the intention of the Appellant to cause alarm or compel doing/abstaining from some act, and not mere utterances of words, is a pre-requisite of successful conviction under Section 506 of IPC. The trial Court has undertaken no such separate analysis or recorded any finding on this count, thus calling into question the conviction for criminal intimidation. Further, the nature of this charge is such that, it is a derivative of the main charge of 'procuration of minor girls'. Given the facts of this case, where the common testimony of PW-1 on both charges has been doubted, it would be unwise to rely upon it as the sole piece of evidence to convict the Appellant for criminal intimidation without any other corroboration.

The prosecution has failed to discharge its burden of proving the guilt of the Appellant under Section 366A and 506 of the IPC beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, the appeal is allowed and the conviction and sentence awarded by the Courts below are set aside.


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