Courts must test evidence meticulously when there is delay in filing FIR: Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court has said that when there is a delay in lodging an FIR without proper explanation, the courts must be on guard and test the evidence meticulously, to rule out possibility of embellishments in the prosecution story, as it gives opportunity for deliberation and guess work. 

A bench of Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra allowed appeals filed by Harilal and Parsaram alias Rangnath who were held guilty of the offence of murdering Ellahabadiya alias Vijay in 1989 and sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court at Bilaspur in 1991. The HC had in 2010 confirmed the trial court's judgement.

In the instant case, the court, however, noticed from the record that the trial court as well as the High Court while appreciating the evidence have not properly addressed various aspects, namely, there is no clear cut motive proved against the accused except that there was some incident concerning a lady of the village.

Secondly two prosecution witnesses stated that the deceased was assaulted in front of the house of one of the accused persons. However, neither of them lodged the FIR. Rather, a named FIR was lodged on August 26, 1989 at 10 am village Chowkidar of neighbouring village Khapri, even though she was not an eye witness to the incident, it said.

Since the FIR was lodged a day after the incident, the bench said in these circumstances, complainant assumed importance to ascertain the source of her information.

"Unfortunately, neither the trial court nor the High Court have carefully considered her deposition," the bench noted.

Although there might not have been a specific question put to the witness as regards the delay in lodging the FIR but the fact that it was a delayed FIR cannot be ignored, the bench added.

"When an FIR is delayed, in absence of proper explanation, the courts must be on guard and test the evidence meticulously to rule out possibility of embellishments in the prosecution story, inasmuch as delay gives opportunity for deliberation and guess work. More so, in a case where probability
of no one witnessing the incident is high, such as in a case of night occurrence in an open place or public street," the bench said.

The court also found two chance witnesses' version was not worthy of any credence as those were also inconsistent with their previous statements as they claimed to have seen the accused assaulting the deceased.

"No doubt, different people react differently to a given situation. But if it had truly been an issue between few individuals fighting in the street, natural course of human conduct would be to collect people to solve out issues. However, where villagers in general, and none in specific, assault a person accused of his involvement with a lady, it is quite natural for by-standers not to intervene," the bench said.

The court did not find the testimony of the witness to be of such a stellar quality that it may on its own form the basis of conviction of the accused for the offence of murder. More so, because it leaves many gaps in the prosecution story, namely, as to how the body came near the temple and why a lathi was left near the dead body of the deceased when, as per the police story, all the three assailants had walked away with their respective lathis, which were later discovered at their instance, it said.

The court, therefore, concluded, "We are of the considered view that the prosecution has not been able to convincingly prove the genesis of the crime as also the manner in which the murder took place and by whom, inasmuch as the evidence led by the prosecution gives rise to a strong probability of the killing being a consequence of mob action on the deceased for his alleged involvement with a lady of the village."

The court said the accused were entitled to the benefit of doubt due to factors like it was a night occurrence, a named FIR was lodged by chowkidar of another village who admitted no eye witness informed of the incident, among others.

Case Title: Harilal Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh

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