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The excessive solicitude that a thousand guilty men may go but one innocent martyr shall not suffer is a false dilemma

FEBRUARY 17, 2017

By TIOL Edit Team

THE Supreme Court, in its recent judgement, while confirming the conviction awarded by the trial court and quashing the order of the High Court made some agitated remarks about corruption and how corruption cases are to be tried.

Interestingly the trial court had awarded a sentence of four years imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 100 crores to the Accused No.1.

The Supreme Court observed, quoting from several judgements -

+ Corruption in a civilized society is a disease like cancer, which if not detected in time is sure to afflict the polity of the country leading to disastrous consequences.

+ Corruption is like a plague which is not only contagious but if not controlled spreads like fire in a jungle.

+ Corruption is opposed to democracy and social order, being not only anti people but aimed and targeted against them. It affects the economy and destroys the cultural heritage and therefore, unless it is nipped in the bud at the earliest, it is likely to cause turbulence, shaking the socio-economic-political system in an otherwise healthy, wealthy, effective and vibrating society.

+ It can be stated without any fear of contradiction that corruption is not to be judged by decree, for corruption mothers disorder, destroys societal will to progress, accelerates undeserved ambitions, kills the conscience, jettisons the glory of the institutions, paralyses the economic health of a country, corrodes the sense of civility and mars the marrows of governance.

+ It is worth noting that immoral acquisition of wealth destroys the energy of the people believing in honesty, and history records with agony how they have suffered. The only redeeming fact is that collective sensibility respects such suffering as it is in consonance with the constitutional morality.

+ Corruption is an enemy of the nation and tracking down corrupt public servants and punishing such persons is a necessary mandate of the Act 1988.

Benefit of doubt - Not to the Accused?

The Supreme Court noted,

+ Whenever a question of construction arises upon ambiguity or if two views are possible of a provision of an anti corruption law, it would be the duty of the Court to adopt that construction which would advance the object underlying the statute, namely to make effective the provision for the prevention of bribery and corruption and at any rate not to defeat it. Procedural delays and technicalities of law should not be permitted to defeat the object sought to be achieved by the statute and the overall public interest and the social object is to be borne in mind while interpreting the various provisions thereof and in deciding cases under the same.

The Supreme Court noted the observations of Justice Krishna Iyer about the dangers of exaggerated affinity to the rule of benefit of doubt:

++ The dangers of exaggerated devotion to the rule of benefit of doubt at the expense of social defence and to the soothing sentiment that all acquittals are always good regardless of justice to the victim and the community, demand especial emphasis in the contemporary context of escalating crime and escape. The judicial instrument has a public accountability. The cherished principles or golden thread of proof beyond reasonable doubt which runs thro' the web of our law should not be stretched morbidly to embrace every hunch, hesitancy and degree of doubt.

++ The excessive solicitude reflected in the attitude that a thousand guilty men may go but one innocent martyr shall not suffer is a false dilemma. Only reasonable doubts belong to the accused. Otherwise any practical system of justice will then break down and lose credibility with the community. The evil of acquitting a guilty person light heartedly as a learned author (Glanville Williams in 'Proof of Guilt') has sapiently observed, goes much beyond the simple fact that just one guilty person has gone unpunished. If unmerited acquittals become general, they tend to lead to a cynical disregard of the law, and this in turn leads to a public demand for harsher legal presumptions against indicated 'persons' and more severe punishment of those who are found guilty.

Burden of proof:

Dr. Subramanian Swamy submitted before the Court,

+ The respondents could not have been exonerated of the serious charges levelled against them in the overwhelming perspective of the statutory intolerance against pervasive and pernicious escalation of corruption in public life destroying the vitals of the systemic soul of our democratic polity.

The Supreme Court noted from earlier judgements that:

+ In all human affairs, absolute certainty is a myth and the law does not require the prosecution to prove the impossible. All that was required is the establishment of such a degree of probability that a prudent man may on this basis believe in the existence of the fact in issue.

+ Legal proof is not necessarily perfect proof and is nothing more than a prudent man's estimate as to the probability of the case.

+ Proof beyond reasonable doubt is only a guideline and not a fetish and that a guilty man cannot get away with it because truth suffers from infirmity, when projected through human processes.

+ If a case is proved too perfectly, it is argued that it is artificial; if a case has some flaws, inevitable because human beings are prone to err, it is argued that it is, too imperfect and thus whether in the meticulous hypersensitivity to eliminate a rare innocent from being punished, many, guilty men must be callously allowed to escape.

+ In our criminal justice system, for recording guilt of the accused, it is not necessary that the prosecution should prove the case with absolute or mathematical certainty but only beyond reasonable doubt and the criminal courts, while examining whether any doubt is beyond reasonable doubt, may carry in their mind, some "residual doubt" even though the courts are convinced of the accused persons' guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Expensive Wedding?

The prosecution had alleged that the A1 had spent a sum of Rs.6,45,04,222/- for the marriage of her foster son, out of which, Rs.5,21,23,532/- were spent for putting up pandals.

The Trial Court held:

++ Though the said amount looks exorbitant, but having regard to the accommodation provided to more than 40,000 to 50,000 people at two places and special arrangements made for the stage and decoration, the said amount does not appear to be unreasonable. If the claim of the party workers that they spent rupees sixty lakhs only for the façade is believed, then, having regard to the magnitude of the event, at least three times of the said amount could be estimated for putting up the pandals. Further, a minimum of Rs. 40 lakhs to Rs. 50 lakhs might have been spent on food on the date of marriage as well as for the reception and for breakfast. It has come in evidence that number of cooks were employed and were paid wages, elaborate sitting arrangements were made at the venue, posh accommodation was arranged for the VIPs, elephants were procured from Kerala, crackers were burst and the entire venue was illuminated with lights, which would certainly entail huge expenses. That apart, it is established in evidence that, huge amount was spent towards the printing of invitation, publication of thanks in the dailies, tamboolam and valuable presents given to the guests, all of which would certainly entail an expenses of more than 3 crores of rupees even by modest and conservative estimation. Therefore, taking into consideration all the above facts and circumstances, a sum of Rs. 3 crores is taken as the expenses incurred by A-1 towards the arrangement for the marriage of A-3.

The High Court accepted the statement of the accused that the expenditure was only Rs. 28,68,000/- as furnished to the Income Tax Department.

The Supreme Court held that the computation of the expenditure incurred by A1 in the marriage as made by the High Court is unacceptable in the teeth of the materials on record to the contrary.

Law to restrict lavish weddings:

All the newspapers and news channels prominently reported a story that a Bill is in Loksabha proposing to restrict wedding expenses. This is about a Private Member's Bill mentioned in the Lok Sabha bulletin nearly a month ago. Suddenly a news agency picked up the story and it spread like wild fire across the world. A newspaper in Pakistan reported, "Indian parliament passes bill seeking to curb extravagant weddings " . Even the BBC reported, " Indian weddings: Curb sought on excessive spending."


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