Punishing a person without proper identity directly impinges upon liberty under Article 21 of Constitution: Madras High Court

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The high court said that the court shouldn’t be swayed by mere emotions and must necessarily ensure proper identification of the accused persons.

While overturning a robbery conviction, the Madras High Court stressed upon the need for a 'Test Identification Parade'. The court said that punishing someone without adequate identification directly violates his personal liberty, as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.

The single judge bench of Justice N. Anand Venkatesh said that in the case at hand, it was quite unfortunate that the investigation officer did not resort to Test Identification Parade in spite of the fact that the accused persons were unknown to the victim.

The court said, “There is no question of identifying an accused person on assumptions and it involves a very important right guaranteed to any person under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and punishing a person even without proper identity, will directly impinge upon the liberty that is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

The judge further said that courts should not be swayed by mere emotions and must necessarily ensure that the accused persons are properly identified.

The court also stated that in many situations, police officials portray a persistent offender as the accused because it is easier. The court objected to this line of research, stating that simply because a person is a habitual offender, he cannot be held liable for every crime committed in society. According to the court, this mentality could harm the criminal justice system and render officers useless.

In this case, the appellants Vadivel, Vetrivel, and Gurudev were accused of robbery. The prosecution claimed that the appellants went to the defacto complainant's house, threw chilli powder in her eyes, and stole her four-pound gold necklace. According to the prosecution, an FIR was filed against unknown persons based on the complaint, and the defendants were later detained.

The court noted that while filing the complaint, the de facto complainant did not identify any of the defendants by name, and that no test identification parade was held during the inquiry.

The court further highlighted that, even during the trial, the complainant had not recognised the accused persons, and neither the court nor the prosecution had posed any questions to establish their identities. The court also noted that none of the res gestae witnesses who lived in the area identified the accused defendants in court.

The court further said, “It must be borne in mind that a mere recovery cannot lead to conviction and sentence of accused persons unless they have been properly identified by witnesses. In other words, recovery will only be one link in the chain of circumstances and that by itself will not lead to conviction and sentence.”

The only crucial witnesses, according to the court, were members of the Co-operative Bank, where the gold chain was pledged. The court stated that their depositions would only aid the prosecution in recovering the material object, i.e. the gold chain, and would not aid in determining the accused's liability. The court stressed that simple recovery would not result in a conviction and would simply be one link in a chain of events.

Thus, the court thought it fit to interfere with the sentence of the trial court and accordingly acquitted the appellants from all charges.

Case Title: Vadivel and others v State