Supreme Court to Scrutinize Legitimacy of Acquittals Following Law Changes

Supreme Court Law Insider

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Published on: November 13, 2023 at 11:10 IST

The Supreme Court to Scrutinize the intricate question of whether a subsequent alteration in the law can serve as a valid ground for reevaluating an acquittal.

The Court, presided over by Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice Sanjay Karol, while addressing a Special Leave Petition challenging a Kerala High Court order.

The High Court not only condoned a substantial delay of 1148 days but also opted to assess the Prosecution’s appeal challenging the acquittal of a defendant in a case under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS).

The Petitioner, acquitted on December 10, 2018, by a Special Court, based the acquittal on the law pronounced by the Supreme Court in Mohan Lal vs. the State of Punjab (2018) 17 SCC 627.

However, the subsequent change in law articulated in Mukesh Singh vs. State (Narcotic Branch of Delhi) (2020) prompted the Prosecution to file an appeal after a delay of 1184 days, contesting the acquittal.

In Mohan Lal’s case, the Supreme Court in 2018 established that when the investigation is conducted by the same police officer who acts as the complainant, the trial is compromised, entitling the accused to acquittal.

Contrarily, in 2020, the Supreme Court, in Mukesh Singh’s case, clarified that prior rulings concluding that a trial was compromised and the accused deserved acquittal due to the dual roles of the complainant and the investigating officer being the same should be deemed specific to their circumstances and not construed as establishing a broad legal principle.

While the petitioner secured acquittal in 2018 based on Mohan Lal’s judgment, the State of Kerala filed an appeal before the High Court, invoking Mukesh Singh’s case as the foundation.

The Kerala High Court, despite a delay of 1148 days, issued a notice and considered the appeal. Dissatisfied, the Petitioner approached the Supreme Court.

The Bench acknowledged the petitioner’s argument that a subsequent change in law cannot validate the condonation of delay or disturb the acquittal finding.

Despite this, the High Court, in its order dated June 23, 2023, not only condoned the significant delay but also opted to evaluate the Prosecution’s appeal on merit.

Consequently, the Supreme Court issued notice in the Special Leave Petition and halted the proceedings before the High Court.

Case Title: Hyder v. State Of Kerala

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