The Bombay High Court recently set aside a conviction for murder giving the accused the benefit of doubt and observed that the accused was not made aware by the prosecution of his right to remain silent. The court also observed that the prosecution case rested largely on circumstantial evidence and was not at all free from doubt. The order came more than two decades after the man was convicted by a Mumbai sessions court.
The prosecution case was that Andhra Pradesh resident Laxman Zinna murdered a man in a forest area in Charkop village near Kandivli in March 1989.
The HC invoked Section 313 of the CrPC that lays down that a court can put questions to the accused as it considers necessary or question him generally on the case after the prosecution has finished its examination. Section 313 (1b) says the court may,after the witnesses for the prosecution have been examined and before the accused is called for his defence,question him generally on the case. Dealing with the issue,the bench of Justice A S Oka and Justice S P Davare observed,Surely,before the accused is examined,he must be informed that he may decline to give answers to the questions put to him.
The judges noted that absence of such an intimation can cause serious prejudice to a person. The judgement also took note that in such examination,the lawyer appointed by the accused does not have any role to play.
Therefore,it would be very unsafe to base conviction on such confessional statement especially when the appellant was not warned it could be used against him, the bench said.
The court also rejected a demand for re-examination of the accused,noting,The incident occurred 23 years back…it will be very unfair to the appellant if after so long,he is asked to explain evidence adduced against him.
The court acquitted Zinna.