Appellate courts including high courts should not interfere with verdicts acquitting the accused in criminal cases, merely on the ground that a "different view" was possible, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
A bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and R Subhash Reddy, referring to previous apex court verdicts, held that the trial court's acquittal should not be disturbed by the appellate courts unless there existed "very substantial and compelling reasons".
"Interference with an order of acquittal is not permissible on the ground that a different view is possible. If the acquittal is justified on a probable view taken by the trial court, it should not be interfered with," Justice Rao, writing the verdict for the bench, said.
The apex court's observation came in a verdict by which it set aside a Patna High Court judgement convicting accused in a murder case of 1984.
The trial was conducted against five persons as one accused died and another absconded.
The trial court acquitted the five accused on various grounds including the delay in lodging the FIR, untrustworthy witnesses, improbability of identification of the accused and non-examination of independent witnesses.
The Patna High Court reversed the trial court verdict and convicted the five accused.
"The high court felt that apart from minor inconsistencies, the evidence of the eye witnesses was reliable and there was sufficient light to identify the accused.
"The accused shared a common intention of killing the deceased according to the high court. The delay in registering the FIR was found to be not fatal to the case of the prosecution. The evidence of interested witnesses was also held reliable by the high court," the apex court judgement said.
The top court set aside the high court verdict and acquitted two accused in the case.
Three other accused had died during the pendency of their appeal in the apex court and the proceedings with regard to them had got abated.
"Interference with the judgment of the trial court in this case by the high court is on a re-appreciation of evidence which is undoubtedly permissible.
"Though the high court was aware of the well-settled principles of law in matters relating to appeals against acquittals, it failed to apply the same in their proper perspective," the apex court said.
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