10 June 2024


Supreme Court

A.T. Mydeen and Ors. Vs. The Assistant Commissioner, Customs Department and Ors.




Evidence recorded in a criminal trial against any accused is confined to the culpability of that accused only

In facts of present case, trial Court vide separate judgments and orders under Sections 132, 135(1)(a)(ii) read with 135A of the Customs Act 1962, had acquitted all the six accused. However, the High Court, vide impugned judgment, proceeded to record conviction of all the six accused and awarded sentence to undergo imprisonment of one year and fine of Rs. 50,000 each and in default to undergo further six months rigorous imprisonment. Aggrieved by the conviction and sentence, present appeal has been filed.

The issue which falls for consideration is whether the evidence recorded in a separate trial of co- accused can be read and considered by the appellate court in a criminal appeal arising out of another separate trial conducted against another accused, though for the commission of the same offence.

Section 273 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) provides that except as otherwise expressly provided, all evidence taken in the course of the trial or other proceeding shall be taken in the presence of the accused, or, when his attendance is dispensed with, in the presence of his pleader. Each case has to be decided on its own merit and the evidence recorded in one case cannot be used in its cross case. Whatever evidence is available on the record of the case only that has to be considered. The only caution is that both the trials should be conducted simultaneously or in case of the appeal, they should be heard simultaneously.

Evidence recorded in a criminal trial against any accused is confined to the culpability of that accused only and it does not have any bearing upon a co-accused, who has been tried on the basis of evidence recorded in a separate trial, though for the commission of the same offence.

It is also an undisputed proposition of law that, in a criminal appeal against conviction, the appellate Court examines the evidence recorded by the trial Court and takes a call upon the issue of guilt and innocence of the accused. Hence, the scope of the appellate Court’s power does not go beyond the evidence available before it in the form of a trial court record of a particular case, unless Section 367 or Section 391 of CrPC comes into play in a given case, which are meant for further inquiry or additional evidence while dealing with any criminal appeal.

In the present controversy, two different criminal appeals were being heard and decided against two different judgments based upon evidence recorded in separate trials, though for the commission of the same offence. As such, the High Court fell into an error while passing a common judgement, based on evidence recorded in only one trial, against two sets of accused persons having been subjected to separate trials. The High Court ought to have distinctly considered and dealt with the evidence of both the trials and then to decide the culpability of the accused persons.

The learned single Judge of the High Court has apparently not adopted the correct procedure prescribed under law and therefore, the judgment of the High Court needs to be set aside. Once a common judgment is set aside for one appeal, it cannot be upheld for another appeal. There cannot be a severance of the judgment particularly when it arises in a criminal case, where the rights of the accused are as important as the rights of a victim. Therefore, it would be in the fitness of things and in the interest of the parties that the matters are remanded to the High Court for a fresh decision in accordance with law. Judgment of the High Court is set aside. Appeal allowed.

Tags : Conviction Evidence Culpability

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