Infant Rape-Murder Case: SC Sets Aside Man’s Conviction, Remits Matter for Fresh Trial

The Supreme Court has set aside the conviction of a man facing death penalty for alleged rape and murder of a three-month-old girl and remitted the matter for a “de novo (new) trial”, observing that the trial in the case was conducted in a “hurried manner” without giving him proper opportunity to defend himself.

The apex court noted that the trial in the case lodged in 2018 was completed within a span of 15 days from the date of filing of the charge sheet, the accused was convicted for several offences and sentenced to death by the trial court.

A bench headed by Justice B R Gavai said, “We are of the considered view that the trial court conducted the trial in a hurried manner without giving proper opportunity to the accused to defend himself.”

It was settled that a hasty trial in which proper and sufficient opportunity was not provided to the accused to defend himself or herself would vitiate the trial as being “meaningless and stage-managed”, the bench, also comprising Justices P S Narasimha and Prashant Kumar Mishra, said in its verdict delivered on October 19.

“Therefore, the judgement of conviction and sentence passed by the trial court and affirmed by the high court is hereby set aside and the matter is remitted back to the trial court for de novo trial by affording proper opportunity to the appellant to defend himself,” it said.

The top court delivered its verdict on a plea filed by appellant, Naveen, challenging the December 2018 judgement of the Madhya Pradesh High Court upholding his conviction for the offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including that of murder and rape, and under the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The High Court had confirmed the death sentence awarded to him by a trial court in Indore.

The Supreme Court noted in its verdict that the appellant was convicted and sentenced for committing rape and murder of a three-month-old girl child.

During the arguments before the top court, the counsel appearing for the appellant had argued that the entire trial was completed within 15 days — from April 27, 2018, when the charge sheet was filed, to May 12, 2018, when judgement was delivered by the trial court.

“A close reading and scrutiny of the order sheet recorded by the trial court, as stated above in brief, would manifest that the accused was not provided an opportunity to engage a counsel of his choice and instead his submission was recorded that he desires to be defended by a counsel appointed through legal aid,” the bench said.

It said the order sheets clearly indicated that the trial was conducted in a “hurried manner” without providing ample and proper opportunity to the defence counsel, who was engaged through legal aid, to prepare himself effectively.

The bench also referred to the principle of “judicial calm” in the context of fair trial.

“In our view, in the hallowed halls of justice, 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 tranquillity, offering a sanctuary of reason and measured deliberation,” it said.

“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 bench said.

Also Read

The top court noted it was impossible for the accused to produce during the trial two experts, authors of reports like DNA and FSL, in one day because they were government servants and could not have attended the court at his request.

“The trial court treated the accused as if he is carrying a magic wand which is available to produce highly qualified experts, who are government servants, on a phone call. There was no opportunity, in the real sense, to the appellant to cross-examine the experts,” it said.

While disposing of the appeal, the apex court directed the trial court and the District Legal Services Authority, Indore to provide assistance of a senior counsel to the appellant to contest the trial on his behalf.

Related Articles

Latest Articles