A sessions court has set aside a two-year jail term awarded by the trial court to a man because he did not get proper legal assistance, as a result of which the prosecution witness was not cross-examined.
Special Judge Savita Rao sent the case back to the trial court, stating that “great prejudice” has been caused, and ordered it to appoint “amicus curiae or legal aid” for conducting the cross-examination. “For the non-cross-examination of material witnesses, great prejudice seems to have been caused to the appellant, who is not aware of the legal procedure,” said the judge.
The trial court, in its judgment in 2016, convicted truck driver Amar Singh of mowing down a person 16 years ago and sentenced him to “rigorous imprisonment” for two years.
It also ordered the driver to pay Rs 50,000 as compensation to the legal heirs of the deceased. The driver had rammed into many shops and hit the victim at M B Road, Mehrauli, around 2 am on November 1-2 in 2001.
The prosecution said the accused drove the truck rashly, causing the death of the victim, besides damaging the shops. The driver was booked and held guilty under IPC sections 279 (rash driving) and 304A (causing death by negligence) by the trial court.
As per court records, two eyewitnesses were “not cross-examined” in the absence of the counsel, and as the matter reached the stage of final arguments, an application under 311 CrPC (power to summon material witness, or examine person present) was moved in 2016, only to be dismissed. “Trial court, while observing that the application had been moved at belated stage, dismissed the application and judgment was pronounced the same day,” stated the court records.
The court also noted that the records reveal there was repeated absence of counsel for the accused and even in the appeal in the sessions court, the counsel failed to appear despite “repeated opportunities” permitted. “Apparently the appellant does not and did not have the appropriate legal assistance with him as is reflected from the record,” the court said.
Setting aside the sentencing order and “permitting opportunity” for cross-examination, the court said, “It is made clear that if, due to any unforeseen and unavoidable reason, any of the witnesses remain unavailable, their examination already recorded shall be read in evidence and thereafter no adverse inference shall be drawn for their non-cross examination.”