“Our legal system has made life too easy for the criminals and too difficult for law-abiding citizens. A touch here and a push there, India may become ungovernable in the present constitutional set-up, said eminent jurist N.A. Palkhivala, and the facts of this case validate his sagely prophecy.” This is how the Madras High Court began one of its verdicts on Tuesday.
Justice P.N. Prakash penned the prelude after coming across a shocking case of a trial court having convicted and sentenced a person in a criminal case though he had already been discharged. When an explanation was sought, the judicial officer replied that he had ‘inadvertently’ convicted and punished the first accused instead of the second accused.
What’s more, an appeal was preferred in the name of the discharged accused and the High Court too had suspended the sentence imposed by the trial court. Neither the special public prosecutor concerned nor any other advocate had brought the anomaly to the notice of the court, Justice Prakash lamented.
He recalled that the case dated back to May 2, 2000, when Shivshankar, a Dalit, lodged a police complaint accusing Nanjappan and Saravanan of having abused him using his caste name and assaulting him. In 2004, a Sessions Court in Krishnagiri district discharged Nanjappan from the case, and that order was not challenged either by the prosecution or the complainant. In the meantime, a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against Saravanan since he was absconding. It took more than eight years for the police to arrest the absconding accused, and eventually, he was made to face trial in the case in 2008.
Finally, on August 26, 2011, a Sessions Court convicted and sentenced Nanjappan instead of convicting Saravanan.
The trial court had convicted Nanjappan under Section 323 (causing hurt voluntarily) of the IPC and sentenced him to one year of rigorous imprisonment, apart from imposing a fine of ₹1,000. Assuming that the punishment had been imposed only against him, Saravanan paid the fine amount and instructed his lawyer to prefer an appeal.
Accordingly, an appeal was preferred in the High Court in the name of Nanjappan in 2011 and the sentence got suspended. The appeal was gathering dust for the last seven years until Justice Prakash took it up for final hearing recently.
“The tragedy is that for the occurrence that took place in the year 2000, the system has not been able to properly acquit or punish the offender till 2019, for which all the stakeholders should hang their head in shame,” the judge said..
Later, the judge remitted the matter to the Dharmapuri Sessions Court for passing judgment afresh within a month.