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‘Judicial officers owe responsibility to ensure compliance with law’

It said that inefficiency and callousness on their part is bound to shake the faith of the society in the system of administration of criminal justice in the country which, ‘in our opinion, has reached considerably lower level than desirable’.

A bench comprising of Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice J Chelameswar took strong note of inadequacy of an investigation in a dowry case in a Bihar court for the failure to discharge the responsibility on the part of the public prosecutor and the magistrate who took cognisance of the offence under section 304B. In the case, the lower court had convicted three persons under section 498 A (dowry) and 304 B (dowry death) without securing the viscera report from the forensic lab and placing it before the court. The Patna high court upheld the lower court order. It said that the public prosecutor failed in his responsibility to guide the investigating officer in securing viscera report and the magistrate, who committed the matter to the sessions court, failed to apply his mind and mechanically committed the matter for trial.

The apex court bench did not interfere with the conviction of two of the three, who had moved the apex court challenging the order, under section 498A, but it acquitted them of charges under 304B. The court said that having regard to the nature of the crime, it is a very vital document more particularly in the absence of any direct evidence regarding the consumption of poison by the deceased.

The apex court bench said that the conclusion recorded by both the courts below that the deceased died an unnatural death is not based on any legal material on record as none of the witnesses spoke to the factum of their witnessing the deceased consuming poison either under compulsion or otherwise and the statement in the FIR was based on hearsay evidence. ‘In the circumstances, we are of the opinion that the surviving appellant must be acquitted of the offence under section 304B’, said the court.

Three accused were charged for the offences under sections 328, 304B and 498A of IPC and sections 3 and 5 of Dowry Prohibition Act on the allegation that they harassed and were responsible for the unnatural death of one Babita Devi. All three accused were found guilty of the offences they were charged with by the trial court.
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