Case: NASIB SINGH vs. THE STATE of PUNJAB & ANR.
Criminal Appeal Nos. 1051-1054 of 2021
The case is an appeal of a judgment from 20th December 2019. In the previous case, the prosecutrix alleged that she was gang-raped by Balwinder Singh, Gurpreet Singh is also known as Aman and Sandeep Singh. She filed an FIR regarding the same. However, no proper investigation was conducted and no arrests were made. The prosecutrix committed suicide following the FIR.
However, a cousin of the prosecutrix lodged another FIR against the same accused people regarding abetment to suicide. On 29 November 2014, the sessions court of Patiala convicted (i) Balwinder Singh; (ii) Gurpreet Singh alias Aman; (ii) Shinderpal Pal Kaur; and (iv) Sandeep Singh for the rape charges. But the judge of the sessions court acquitted Nasib Singh, the appellant because he had not disturbed the investigation in any manner. and hence, Nasib Singh was not convicted. Thus, the same judge tried both the cases arising out of the different FIRs. He convicted the others while he acquitted Nasib Singh.
9 appeals were filed against this judgment in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana. The appeals were against the joint trial held by the session judge. The High Court ordered retrial as a result of this appeal.
The accused acquitted by the session judge filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the retrial ordered by the High Court.
The Supreme Court on 8th October 2021 held that setting aside a conviction or acquittal merely based on a joint or separate trial is wrong.
When can a Retrial be ordered?
As per the judgment of the current case, a bench consisting of Justices DY Chandrachud, Vikram Nath, and BV Nagarathna observed that
"A retrial cannot be ordered unless the Appellate Court is satisfied that:
(i) The court trying the proceeding had no jurisdiction;
(ii) The trial was vitiated by serious illegalities and irregularities or on account of a misconception of the nature of the proceedings as a result of which no real trial was conducted; or
(iii) The prosecutor or an accused was for reasons beyond their control prevented from leading or tendering evidence material to the charge and that in the interest of justice, the Appellate Court considers it appropriate to order a retrial".
What is Joint and Separate Trial?
"From the decisions of this court on joint trial and separate trials, the following principles can be formulated:
(i) Section 218 provides that separate trials shall be conducted for distinct offenses alleged to be committed by a person. Sections 219 - 221 provide exceptions to this general rule. If a person falls under these exceptions, then a joint trial for the offenses with which a person is charged may be conducted. Similarly, under Section 223, a joint trial may be held for persons charged with different offenses if any of the clauses in the provision are separately or on a combination satisfied;
(ii) While applying the principles enunciated in Sections 218 - 223 on conducting joint and separate trials, the trial court should apply a two-pronged test, namely, (i) whether conducting a joint/separate trial will prejudice the defense of the accused; and/or (ii) whether conducting a joint/separate trial would cause judicial delay.
(iii) The possibility of conducting a joint trial will have to be determined at the beginning of the trial and not after the trial based on the result of the trial. The Appellate Court may determine the validity of the argument that there ought to have been a separate/joint trial only based on whether the trial had prejudiced the right of accused or the prosecutrix;
(iv) Since the provisions which engraft an exception use the phrase 'may' concerning conducting a joint trial, a separate trial is usually not contrary to the law even if a joint trial could be conducted unless proven to cause a miscarriage of justice; and
(v) A conviction or acquittal of the accused cannot be set aside on the mere ground that there was a possibility of a joint or a separate trial. To set aside the order of conviction or acquittal, it must be proved that the rights of the parties were prejudiced because of the joint or separate trial, as the case may be. "
Hence the apex court decided to allow the appeals on the terms that:
The impugned judgment by the High Court is set aside.
The entire batch of criminal appeals which have been disposed of by the impugned judgment and order shall stand restored to the file of the High Court for disposal afresh on merits.