Friday, May 27, 2011

We have unfettered powers under Article 142 to render substantive justice: Supreme Court

Order passed during admission of plea does not have status of express provision of law

The Supreme Court has held that it has unfettered powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to enlarge the scope of hearing in a particular case to render substantive justice depending on its facts and circumstances.

A Bench of Justices A.K. Ganguly and Deepak Verama said: “The Supreme Court, while hearing the matter finally and considering the justice of the case, may pass such orders which the justice of the case demands and in doing so, no fetter is imposed on the court's jurisdiction except of course any express provision of the law to the contrary, and normally this court cannot ignore the same while exercising its power under Article 142.” Writing the judgment, Justice Ganguly said: “The provisions of Article 142 have been construed by this court in several judgments. However, one thing is clear: that under Article 142, this court, in exercise of its jurisdiction, may pass such decrees and may make such orders as is necessary for doing complete justice in any case or matters pending before it.”

In this case, appellant Yomeshbhai Pranshankar Bhatt was awarded life imprisonment by a trial court in a murder case and this was confirmed by the Gujarat High Court. At the time of appeal against the High Court judgment, it was argued on his behalf that an offence under Section 302 Indian Penal Code (murder) was not made out and at the most only an offence under IPC Section 304 Part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder for which punishment is 10 years) could be made out and the Supreme Court issued notice to this limited extent.

However, during final arguments the appellant submitted that he was entitled to argue not only for lesser punishment but also for acquittal and the Supreme Court was not bound by its initial order restricting its notice only on the question of determination of the offence.

Allowing the appeal, the Bench agreed with the appellant and said “having regard to the constitutional provision under Article 142, we do not think that this court at the time of final hearing is precluded from considering the controversy in its entire perspective and in doing so, this court is not inhibited by any observation in an order made at the time of issuing the notice.”

The Bench said: “An order which was passed by the court at the time of admitting a petition does not have the status of an express provision of law. Any observations which are made by the court at the time of entertaining a petition by way of issuing notice are tentative observations. We are, therefore, entitled to consider the plea of the appellant for acquittal despite the fact that at the time of issuing notice, it was limited in terms of the order dated July 27, 2009. We, however, make it clear that this cannot be a universal practice in all cases.”

In this case, the Bench held that it would fall under IPC Section 304 Part II and set aside the High Court judgment. Since the appellant had already suffered imprisonment for 11 years 2 months, the Bench directed that he be released forthwith.

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