Evidence law
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This article is written by Lavish Sharma, from Institute of Law, Nirma University. This article discusses the Priyadarshini Mattoo case. 

Introduction 

Over the years, corruption in the judicial system, combined with political power, has been so widespread that it has, in effect, corrupted the entire Indian judiciary. It is ironic that the judiciary itself, being one of the most powerful organs of government, is subdued by the rich and a persuasive lot of society. Unfortunately, almost all constitutional safeguards and restrictions on judicial misconduct are now dead.

In this case, a  shocking assertion was seen to be made by the Judge of the Additional Sessions, G.P. Thareja, in the case of Ms Priyadarshini Mattoo, whereby he acquitted the accused, ultimately representing the deplorable state of our criminal justice system. This is one of the cases that provoked public indignation at the miscarriage of justice by the high-profile and influential accused, Santosh Kumar Singh, son of the former senior IPS officer.

Topic in the media 

On 14 May 2019, the Delhi High Court awarded Santosh Kumar Singh three weeks’ parole, completing a life term for the 1996 rape and the murder of law student Priyadarshini Mattoo. He has been granted the same for giving his LLM test. The High Court said that Singh’s exams are scheduled to begin on 24 May, so that he will be released from prison on 21 May. Singh completed the first branch of LLM in 2014 and then entered the second branch. Singh’s counsel requested a four-week suspension for appearing in the LLM Branch-II exam and attending his daughter’s birthday in June.

The counsel said he had approached the prison authorities for relief, but they did not allow him to do so because of the ongoing election of Lok Sabha. The lawyer said Singh’s behaviour in prison was a good one, and he also did legal aid there. The Delhi Government Standing Counsel (Criminal) Rahul Mehra filed a status report and told the court that Singh had not violated his previous liberty and had also studied in prison.

The Delhi government said that Singh was in semi-open prison and that his sentence review board (SRB) had already recommended his release. After taking notice of the representations, the High Court agreed to grant Singh the parole for three weeks. He was required to have a personal bond of 25,000 and a promise of the same amount to the satisfaction of the prison superintendent. Mattoo (25) was raped and killed in January 1996. Singh, a law student at Delhi University, was acquitted by the court of law on 3 December 1999, but on 27 October 2006, the High Court of Delhi reversed the verdict, found him guilty of rape and murder and sentenced him to death.

The son of a former IPS officer challenged the High Court’s conviction and the death penalty. In October 2010, the Supreme Court upheld Singh’s conviction but changed the death penalty to life imprisonment.

Background of the case

Priyadarshini Mattoo, a law student of 25 years, was found raped and murdered in her home in New Delhi on 23 January 1996. Priyadarshini finished her school in Srinagar after her family had moved to Jammu. After completing her B Com from Jammu, she entered the University of Delhi for her LL.B. course.

She had lodged multiple complaints of harassment, threats and stalking against the perpetrator, Santosh Kumar Singh, who was also a student at LL.B. Law Center campus, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. The accused had gone through LL.B. From the University of Delhi at the Campus Law Center in December 1994.

Repeated allegations made by the deceased turned out to be absolutely pointless in that they did not dissuade the accused who continued to torment her. Despite the two prior undertakings made by the accused following the petition lodged against him by the deceased at the R.K. Puram and Vasant Kunj Police Stations, 25 February 1995 and 16 August 1995 respectively, 6 November 1995. He tried again to harass the deceased at the Campus Law Centre. After this and FIR under Section 354 of the Indian Criminal Code (IPC), 1860 he was brought against him at the Maurice Nagar Police Station, where he was arrested and subsequently released on a personal bond. The deceased also lodged a complaint of harassment with the Dean, Faculty of Law and Campus Law Centre, dated 27 October 1995.

The accused was advised to refrain from these activities. Furthermore, the severity of the matter was such that the deceased was recommended to consult with the Deputy Police Commissioner (South West) who protested against the accused whereby a personal security officer was assigned to him.

As a result, on 30 October 1995 the anguished complainant, out of vindictiveness, submitted baseless allegations to the Delhi University authorities against the deceased that she was pursuing two courses at the same time. As an outcome, the outcome of the deceased was withheld from the institution, which received a notice of cause to which it had to respond at the earliest opportunity. The accused prosecuted the case against the deceased in his personal capacity. In his statement, the deceased argued that she had completed her M.Com in 1991 and had not yet appeared in her LL.B. III year review, thus refuting the charges against her. She also reiterated the harassment of the accused of the past one and a half years.

On the fateful day of the murder, when the deceased was alone at her B-10/7098 home, Vasant Kunj, the accused, came to her house. Upon the arrival of security guard Rajinder Singh at the deceased ‘s residence, it was found that PriyadarshiniMattoo was lying under the double bed and her body was not moved.

Thus, an FIR was lodged at Vasant Kunj Police Station under Section 302 of the Indian Criminal Code (IPC). The statement recorded under Section 161 of the Cr.PC Rajeshwari Mattoo, the mother of the deceased, suspected the perpetrator, and thus joined the investigation.

In the trial court

The matter was dealt with by the Delhi Police, but there, at the behest of C.L. Mattoo; the deceased ‘s father handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) on 25 January 1996. Following a comprehensive investigation by CBI into the matter, the Central Agency filed an indictment against Santosh Kumar Singh on 11 April 1996. The accused was sued in compliance with the statute. Subsequently, the case was taken to the hearing and the then Additional Sessions Judge, S.C.Mittal was pleased to file charges under Sections 302 and 376 of the IPC. The accused pleaded not guilty to the charges and went to trial. The trial began on 11 August 1997. In all, as many as fifty witnesses were examined in court on 3 January 1998. After taking all the circumstances and documents into account.

On 3 December 1999, the Court of Justice absolved the perpetrator, granting him a benefit of the doubt, arguing that the CBI had failed to deliver the facts properly and had behaved in an unjust manner. In addition, it was pointed out that the DNA report submitted by the CBI was therefore made of sand, which was inadmissible in law in the light of Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

In the High court

The decision of the court took us more by surprise as the court became persuaded that there was no doubt about the prosecution case. The judgment was erroneous in the face of it insofar as the court itself had concluded that “the DNA fingerprinting study clearly confirms the guilt of the accused.” Accordingly, in the light of the fallacious decision followed by the subsequent huge public outcry. On 29 February 2000, the CBI lodged an appeal before the High Court of Delhi. It was only after six years that the High Court heard the matter on a day-to-day basis. The High Court shuddered too much at G.P. Thareja’s verdict, he said, “By acquittal of the respondent notwithstanding the conviction that there was no doubt in the prosecution case, the court of the jury has corrupted justice and its decision has shocked the judge, and conscious of the court.”

On 17 October 2006, the High Court overturned seven years ago the verdict of the Court of Justice R.S. Sodhi and P.K. Bhasin patted CBI, the same agency that had lost its case in the lower court, for claiming that Santosh Kumar Singh was guilty “beyond any doubt of unimpeachable evidence.” On 30 October 2006, the High Court of Delhi convicted the accused of committing crimes punishable under Section 302 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code sentencing him to death.

In the Supreme Court of India

On 19 February 2007, the convicted Santosh Kumar Singh chose an appeal to the Supreme Court against the death penalty handed down by the High Court of Delhi. On 6 October 2010, the Bench of Justices H.S. Bedi and C.K. Prasad upheld the conviction of Santosh Kumar Singh in the 14-year-old Priyadarshini Mattoo rape and murder case. Nevertheless, it shortened the penalty of death to life imprisonment by stating that other factors were in favour of the appellant. The Bench argued that “the balance sheet was in favour of Santosh Kumar Singh and the ends of justice will be fulfilled if the death sentence of Santosh Kumar Singh were to be commuted to life imprisonment.”

Analysis of the case

The shoddy investigation and the tampering of the evidence was a major obstacle to the prosecution in the trial. The clincher was that the DNA test proved to be rape. The fractured visor of Santosh’s helmet and the fracture in his head, in addition to the 19 injuries to Mattoo’s body, was something that eventually settled the conflict in favour of the prosecution; so Mattoo’s several reports to the police also revealed the motive and eye witness accounts that Santosh had been seen outside Mattoo’s house a few minutes before the murder. In the process of delivering its judgment, the Trial Court acknowledged that the accused had a motive for the crimes alleged to have been committed by him, which was evident from the persistent abuse and personal circumstances of the accused.

The accused was also seen outside the premises of the Faculty of Law, Campus Law Center, on the eve of the murder of Chief Constable Rajinder Singh on the day of the murder. The Trial Judge also came to a categorical conclusion that on the evening of 23 January 1996 at about 4.50 p.m. The accused was seen standing outside the building. Deceased by her immediate neighbour, Kuppuswamy. Vikas Sharma was the witness who sold some plastic containers to the deceased around 4:20 p.m. on the day of the incident. Just before the accused was spotted outside the deceased’s apartment, which showed that the deceased was in her apartment around that time. That was found to be the case by the Trial Court

Shri Jaideep Singh Ahluwalia, the Security Manager, also saw the accused at about 5:30 p.m. Near the deceased ‘s residence. The accused was also found by Shri O.P. Singh, Advocate, on his bullet motorcycle leaving the B-10 parking area, Vasant Kunj, and continuing to Vasant Kunj area about 5:30 p.m., there was no record of proof that the witnesses had any malicious motive to advance the prosecution in any way by resorting to deception. It was also admitted by the Trial Court that, at that time, the accused was wearing a visor helmet and subsequently, when the police recovered the accused’s helmet, he was not wearing a visor.

But there were some broken pieces of the visor sticking to the helmet, which were later found to have some blood on it. When examined by the Center Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), the helmet was in bad shape at that time, probably because the accused had assaulted the deceased with massive force, as suggested by the 19 injuries to the deceased. This was paired with three fractured ribs. Around 5:40 p.m., the dead man was found dead in her apartment. There was little scope for the acquisition of the accused as a result of these findings in favour of the prosecution. In fact, his findings showed injuries to his right hand after the trial, when the perpetrator was medically examined, which he said had been suffered on 14 January 1996.

In this respect, when Dr G.K. Choubey’s professional opinion of Safdarjung Hospital was requested, he said the wounds appeared fresh in nature, thus contradicting the false plea made earlier by Santosh Singh. According to the rules of the Law of Evidence, it is the duty of the victim to contradict the conclusions of the prosecution produced through medical testimony that the individual was injured. Of the accused, who was not more than 48 hours old and had not been able to do so by the respondent, the inference of the prosecution in relation to the injury had to be found favourable to the Trial Court, which was not the case.

The Trial Court strongly criticized the position of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, alleging an effort by their senior scientists to “delete the unfairness of the CBI that shone like gold from the documents.” The court also questioned the role played by the Delhi Police in their attempt to assist the accused during the investigation and also during the trial. It also noted that “the attitude and work of the subordinate personnel of the Delhi Police indicate that the rule of law does not extend to those who enforce the law or to their close relatives.” This view of the Trial Court indicates that there has been deliberate negligence by the police on the grounds of the prominent role held by the accused’s father in the Delhi Police, which encouraged Santosh Kumar to commit the crime with Impunity.

Despite too many factors in support of the prosecution, the Trial Court absolved the accused, claiming that the CBI had failed on many counts, namely to hide from the court the evidence it had obtained, to fabricate photographic evidence on behalf of the accused, not following an official DNA check protocol, and to deprive the court of the opportunity to review it judicially. In reality, there was no room for doubt in the prosecution case. Finally, after seven years, the Delhi High Court did a commendable job of awarding the death penalty to Santosh Kumar Singh, thus restoring the confidence of the general masses in the judiciary. The High Court of Delhi noted that the conclusions of the Trial Court were of a perverse kind.

The Trial Court’s opinion as to the inadmissibility of the DNA test was not legally binding in so far as the Court should have given due and equal consideration to the reports provided by the expert testimony in the CBI case. The High Court of Delhi ruled that the Patiala House Trial Court held that the CBI was responsible for acting in an unfair and unfair manner.No attempt whatsoever on the part of the CBI was made to hide any relevant facts from the trial. The High Court of Delhi thus excluded the accused from the general rule of “benefit of the doubt” provided by the Trial Court. Life is said to be a gift of God. No one, including the state, has the right to take away life.

Beccaria has opposed the death penalty by claiming that the state has no power to put a person to death because the individual’s life has not been given to him as part of the social contract. In the present situation, the claims put forward by those who do not support the execution of the death penalty are not true when they are taken into account. The violence in which Santosh Kumar Singh had murdered and raped her. The abominable crime committed by the accused was such that the death penalty was completely appropriate and any punishment other than that is simply insufficient. The transition of the death penalty to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court is also absolutely unjust and unequal.

Justice R.S. Sodhi of the Delhi High Court said, “If the Supreme Court is of the opinion that this is not the rarest case, this is it. I felt while delivering justice, that this was very serious and that, according to the circumstances, this girl had been troubled for years. She visited every possible police station and was eventually secured. But he didn’t care about the law: he just barked into her house, raped her, and killed her. I thought this was the limit. “The balance sheet of the aggravating and mitigating factors was clarified both in the case of Bachan Singh (Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab 1980) and Machhi Singh (Machhi Singh vs. State of Punjab 1983).

Guidelines have been set out by the Supreme Court as to when this extreme sentence should be granted and if not. In short, the balance sheet of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances must be drawn up and, in doing so, the mitigation circumstances must be given full weighting and a fair balance must be struck between the aggravating and the aggravating circumstances. Mitigating circumstances before the possibility of the award of one sentence or the other has been exercised. The “rarest of rare doctrines” has been laid down in these cases, which provide that life imprisonment is the rule and that the death sentence constitutes an exception to the rule.

In light of the present case, the relevant questions that need to be answered are:

(a) Was there anything unusual about a crime that renders life imprisonment inadequate and calls for a death sentence. 

(b) If the circumstances of the crime were such that there was no choice but to impose the death penalty even after, according to the maximum weighting, attenuating circumstances which spoke in favour of the defendant. It is obvious from a close review of the facts of the case that the murder had taken place in rather sordid circumstances and that nothing short of the death penalty should have met the ends of justice.

Returning to the facts of the case, it is noted that the accused had mercilessly strangled the victim with a heat convector tube. The ghastly of the murder is evident from the post-mortem report, as well as the marks of scratches on the mouth, neck and chest of the deceased coupled with the blood that oozed out of her, as seen by Inspector Lalit Mohan on the day of the Incident. Indeed, there were no mitigative factors in favour of the convicted and, in our view, it is firmly felt that the death penalty was justified and that the Supreme Court simply erred in turning the death sentence handed down by the High Court into a life sentence. The judgment of the Supreme Court can now set a precedent for potential cases in which rape and murder convicts are now to be convicted serve a life term.

The inhuman manner in which Priyadarshini was killed supports the award of the death penalty to Santosh Kumar Singh. In Nirmal Singh (State of Haryana vs. Nirmal Singh 1998), it was held that the case falls under the rarest category and that the death penalty is therefore fitting. The wounds revealed that they must have been men of great depravity and cruelty devoid of any human feelings. In the case of Lalrinawas (the State of Mizoram vs. Lalrinawma 2000), the accused confessed to his crime and remained firm in his confession; thus, the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. In the present case, there is no such action on the part of Santosh Kumar Singh which is indicative of some kind of repentance.

On the contrary, it regularly made false confessions and fabricated innocence, which only adds to the deteriorating side of the balance sheet. In addition to these, there are a variety of other aggravating factors to be found in the balance sheet. The first and foremost is the incessant abuse of the victim by Santosh Kumar Singh and his illegal actions, which was brought to the attention of the public. The police authorities have several times. Keeping in mind the influential position of his father, he landed fearlessly in killing the victim, and his conduct thereafter also admits no mitigation. To quote the Supreme Court, the appellant would undoubtedly have had time to reflect on the events of the last 15 years and to reflect on the predicament that he is now facing.

The truth that a year after his arrest his father died and the possibility of a pitiful life for his young children, on the contrary, there is nothing to say that he will not improve. In light of the aforementioned assertion and in the absence of any overt intervention on the part of the victim about this behaviour, the only reasonable conclusion that follows is that a 15-year period is, of course, a long time to reflect on one’s wrongdoings.

But nothing much can be expected. Was the commutation of the death penalty allowed by the Supreme Court? It’s nothing more than an abuse of authority by the highest court of the nation the court has the most.

Is it vigorously practised in an unfair and unequal manner?

The most remarkable feature of the punishment of death, and that which it possesses in the greatest perfection, is the removal from the offender of the power to cause further injury. Whatever is apprehended, either by coercion or by the cunning of the perpetrator, disappears at once. Society is delivered in a timely and full manner from all the alarms, If the death penalty were eliminated, it will minimize society’s enormous cost of holding incorrigible prisoners for the rest of their natural lives. Death sentence has a greater dissuasive impact on future offenders than any fine because it is likely to be the most terrifying. It is also the most effective form of preventive punishment. dangerous members of society are thus forever eliminated.

According to Garofalo, a renowned political philosopher, the elimination of criminals was a kind of moral war for the good of society. Lombroso, a political thinker, said that capital punishment should be a good threat to the usual and incorrigible. The view held by the utilitarians is similar.

The hopeless criminal should be removed painlessly, rather than needlessly maintained by the state. So why should the State bear the brunt of maintaining the accused who did not even think twice before committing such a contemptible offence? He did not go to the Priyadarshini family to seek forgiveness, nor did he join any social cause for the victims of rape and sexual assault.

Conclusion

The Indian courts have emerged as the world’s most powerful courts with practically no transparency. But every institution, even the courts, are going wrong. The judiciary is made up of judges who are humans and, being humans they are occasionally motivated by considerations other than an objective view of law and justice. This would be naive to argue that none of them, at least at any point in time, were driven by considerations of their own personal beliefs, affiliations, predilections, prejudices, and perhaps even nepotistic and unethical considerations. Nevertheless, the courts can not agree to make decisions on ethical and moral grounds, rather the justification should be strictly legal. The job of a judge is not to read between lines, but to provide a fair, just and rational understanding of the issue of law before it. “Justice must not only be done, but it must also appear to be done.” Therefore, the judiciary, as a fillip to the country, must seek to offer justice in all situations without fear, favour, affection or ill will.

References


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