Granting relief to the mother and son, from Tehri Garhwal district of Uttrakhand, a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Bela M Trivedi said they were held guilty in the case merely on the basis of suspicion and there was no substantial evidence against them. They were convicted and awarded jail term for their entire life. The bench also pulled up the state police for its shoddy probe in the case.
“There being no cogent evidence adduced by the prosecution to prove the entire chain of circumstances which may compel the court to arrive at the conclusion that the accused only had committed the alleged crime, the court has no hesitation in holding that the trial court and the high court had committed gross error of law in convicting the accused for the alleged crime, merely on the basis of the suspicion, conjectures and surmises,” Justice Trivedi, who penned the judgement for the bench, said.
Not having the financial wherewithal to take the services of a lawyer to defend themselves in the apex court, it was the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee which came to their rescue and advocate Shikhil Suri agreed to defend them.
Suri submitted that the case was based on circumstantial evidence as there was no eyewitness to the incident and the prosecution failed to prove the entire chain of circumstances leading to the guilt of the accused.
The woman had gone missing on June 27, 2009 and a day later, her body was found in a field with burn injuries. The trial court convicted the woman’s husband and mother-in-law in October 2010 and awarded life imprisonment. The order of the trial court was upheld by the high court in August 2013. Nine years after the HC verdict, the Supreme Court acquitted them and noted that there was no recovery and discovery of any incriminating articles from the accused during the investigation and no attempt was made to collect any evidence to connect the accused with the alleged crime.
The court said it is the settled position of law that circumstances, howsoever strong, cannot take the place of proof and the guilt of the accused has to be proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. It said the conviction can be based solely on circumstantial evidence but it should be tested on the touchstone of law relating to the circumstantial evidence that all circumstances must lead to the conclusion that the accused is the only one who has committed the crime and no one else.
“Applying the said principles to the facts of the present case, the court is of the opinion that the prosecution had miserably failed to prove the entire chain of circumstances which would unerringly conclude that alleged act was committed by the accused only and none else,” it said.