In a historic verdict, the Supreme Court on Friday ruled that besides the State, a victim of a criminal offence can also file an appeal under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in superior courts challenging acquittal of the accused without prior nod of the appellate court.
In a 2:1 majority judgement, a three-judge bench headed by Justice M B Lokur held that section 372 of CrPC (which deals with provision of appeals in criminal cases) has to be given "realistic, liberal, progressive" interpretation to benefit the victim of an offence.
Justice Lokur, who wrote the judgement for himself and Justice S Abdul Nazeer, said "there is no doubt that the proviso to Section 372 of the Cr.P.C. must be given life, to benefit the victim of an offence" and also referred to the United Nation's General Assembly's resolution to hold that besides the State, the victims are also entitled to appeal against the acquittal of the accused.
Third judge Justice Deepak Gupta dissented with the majority on sole issue as to whether victims can file the appeal without the prior leave or sanction from the appellate courts and took note of the rights of the accused in this regard.
"I am unable to agree with my learned brother that a victim can file an appeal in the High Court without seeking leave to appeal in terms of Section 378(3) of CrPC," Justice Gupta said.
The majority verdict lamented the fact that Parliament, judiciary and civil society have only given "sporadic attention" to the rights of the victim of a crime and there was more to be done for them.
"The rights of victims of crime is a subject that has, unfortunately, only drawn sporadic attention of Parliament, the judiciary and civil society. Yet, it has made great progress over the years. It is our evolving and developing jurisprudence that has made this possible.
"But we still have a long way to go to bring the rights of victims of crime to the centre stage and to recognise them as human rights and an important component of social justice and the rule of law," the majority judgement said, adding that, unfortunately victims of crime are still facing difficulties in getting the FIRs registered.
In a serious criminal offence, the trials and appeals are pursued by the State and victims of offences can file and appeal under CrPC only after seeking sanction from the appellate court.
According liberal and purposive interpretation to section 372 of CrPC, the majority verdict said, "it is quite obvious that the victim of an offence is entitled to a variety of rights. Access to mechanisms of justice and redress through formal procedures as provided for in national legislation, must include the right to file an appeal against an order of acquittal in a case such as the one that we are presently concerned with."
"The travails and tribulations of victims of crime begin with the trauma of the crime itself and, unfortunately, continue with the difficulties they face in something as simple as the registration of a First Information Report (FIR)," Justice Lokur said.
"Access to justice in terms of affordability, effective legal aid and advice as well as adequate and equal representation are also problems that the victim has to contend with and which impact on society, the rule of law and justice delivery," he added.
Justice Gupta, who dissented on the issue of Right to appeal of victims without sanction, however, concurred with the concerns raised in the majority verdict on the issue of plight of victims.
"I fully agree with my learned brother that the proviso to Section 372 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 must be given a meaning that is realistic, liberal, progressive and beneficial to the victims of the offences.
"However, at the same time, one cannot ignore the rights of the accused and the procedure prescribed by law. I am unable to agree with my learned brother that a victim can file an appeal in the High Court without seeking leave to appeal in terms of Section 378(3) of CrPC," Justice Gupta said.
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