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Understanding Judicial Behaviour; An IndiaSpend First

Pranav Garimella,
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The year 2013 saw extensive judicial activisim, not unlike recent years. The activism was welcomed in some cases but also faced considerable criticism in others.


Even if the Parliamentary process was to become more assertive as it should, it is unlikely we are going to see a substantial diminishing of the judiciary’s role in coming days. It is thus clear that there is a need for judicial verdicts to be viewed and analysed in the context of the people who deliver them.


No society or the members of its judiciary can function independent of each other. One influences the other. And at a very fundamental level, value systems of individuals are at play. We hope that by piecing together judicial verdicts in this manner, you are able to better understand and follow the functioning of this critical pillar of democracy.


IndiaSpend recently initiated its first study of judgments in the context of Justice GS Singhvi who delivered the controversial Section 377 Judgment affecting gay rights in the country.


This time, we look at the judgments of Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam who has delivered judgments in some very high profile criminal cases like the Jessica Lal murder case, the 1993 Mumbai blasts case involving Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt and the Dara Singh case for the murder of the Christian missionary Graham Staines.


Justice Sathasivam has also ruled on important cases like the Reliance gas dispute where he had a dissenting view by saying that the use of natural resources should be through public sector undertakings.  His nationalist side comes to fore in his judgment where he says: “In a constitutional democracy like ours, national assets belong to the people. The Government holds such natural resources in trust. Legally, therefore, the Government owns such assets for the purposes of developing them in the interests of the people.”


Humble Beginnings


Justice Sathasivam was born into an agricultural family in Tamil Nadu, and was the first graduate in his family. In 1996, became a permanent judge in the Madras High Court and was elevated to the office of Judge of the Supreme Court in 2007. He was appointed as Chief Justice of India in July 2013 and is due to retire in April 2014, a short 10-monthtenure.


Justice Sathasivam has taken a strong stand against over-enthusiasm of the media,and had also pointed it out during the Jessica Lal murder case, condemning articles that had “given rise to unnecessary controversies, and apparently, had an effect of interfering with the administration of criminal justice.”


Justice Sathasivam ordered Sanjay Dutt to complete the remainder of his term in jail for his role in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, showing that he is not affected by public sympathy or other factors but is driven solely by the rule of law. At the same time, in the Dara Singh case, he opposed the award of the death sentence saying it wasn’t a “rarest of rare” case and said secularism must be protected.
Justice Sathasivam has also cautioned the courts against awarding lesser sentences in crimes against women and children and showing undue sympathy towards the accused by altering the sentence to the extent of period already undergone.


Let us now look at some of the important judgments delivered by Justice Sathasivam.


Staines – Dara Singh Case [Link]: Justice P Sathasivam & Justice B.S Chauhan


On 22 January 1999, a mob led by Dara Singh attacked the station wagon used by Graham Staines and his two sonsPhilip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6) at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district, Odisha. All the three died in the attack.


In September 2003, the Sessions Court sentenced Singh to death for his role in the murders.


The Supreme Court delivered a verdict of life imprisonment for Dara Singh, the chief accused, on 21 January 2011. The Supreme Court dismissed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI’s) call for the death penalty, explaining that the death penalty could only be imposed in the “rarest of rare” cases.


Justice Sathasivam and Justice Chauhan said: “Though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity.”

The order further said:  “Our concept of secularism is that the state will have no religion. The state shall treat all religions and religious groups equally and with equal respect without in any manner interfering with their individual right of religion, faith and worship.”


Yet, condemning religious conversions, the court also said: “It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone`s belief by way of `use of force`, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other.”
Reliance Gas Case [Link]: Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Sudershan Reddy


In this case, Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani were in dispute over the discovery in the KG-D6 block (one of the biggest oil and gas discoveries made in Asia in recent years) in 2003. Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries had won the fields where the discovery was made. Anil Ambani wanted a part of the gas for his group’s power plantsbased on the family pact. But the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas was not happy with the price at which Anil Ambani asked for the gas in accordance with the family pact.


The core of the dispute was how valid is a family pact which was reached between two brothers, brokered by their mother when the Reliance empire was split up, in deciding the price of gas in which the Government, too, has a claimed share.


Justice Sathasivam delivered a dissenting view in the judgment in this case wherehe emphasised the use of natural resources through public sector undertakings. He observed that “in a national democracy like ours, the national assets belong to the people” and “the Government owns such assets for the purposes of developing them in the interests of the people.”



Jessica Lal Murder Case [Link]: Justice P Sathasivam and Justice Swatantar Kumar


Jessica Lal,   a model in New Delhi and who was working as a celebrity barmaid at a crowded socialite party, was shot dead at around 2 am on 30 April 1999. Dozens of witnesses pointed to Siddharth Vashisht, also known as Manu Sharma, the son of Venod Sharma, a wealthy and influential Congress-nominated Member of Parliament from Haryana, as the murderer.


In 2006, the High Court overturned the order of the trial court and held the accused guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment.


An appeal was filed in the SC in 2010where a bench led by Justice Sathasivam upheld the sentence and said the evidence regarding the actual incident, the testimonies of witnesses, the evidence connecting the vehicles and cartridges to the accused — Manu Sharma, as well as his conduct after the incident – proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.


Now, let us look at some of the important judgments by Justice Sathasivam in the past two years.


April 2013


Litta Singh & Anr. Vs. State of Rajasthan [Link]: Justice P Sathasivam and MY Eqbal, JJ.


The appellants in the present case were prosecuted for causing the death of the brother of prosecutor-witness 1. According to the brother of the victim, two days prior to the incident, a quarrel took place between the deceased and the father of the appellants. In the evening of the day of the incident, the appellants and their father assaulted the victim with sticks shouting ‘maro maro’. The victim succumbed to injuries in hospital.


The trial court convicted both appellants under Section 302 IPC (punishment for murder), sentencing them to imprisonment for life.


The SC bench held that the case falls under section 304(culpable homicide not amounting to murder) andnot Section 302 (punishment for murder), and said that although appellants had no intention of causing death, it can be inferred that they knew that such bodily injury was likely to cause death.


Therefore, appellants are guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murderwhile the High Court held them guilty for murder. The appellants/accused sentence was commuted/reduced to ten years’ imprisonment.


What this case did is that it commuted/reduced the term of imprisonment when the appellants had no intention of causing the death but knew that bodily injury was likely to cause death. So, emphasis was laid on the intention of the accused and not merely the act.


March 2013


1993 Mumbai Blast case – Sanjay Dutt [Link]: Justice P Sathasivam and Justice B S Chauhan


Along with Justice B. S. Chauhan, Justice Sathasivam delivered the judgment in the 1993 Mumbai blasts casesentencing Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt to five years imprisonment under the Arms Act. Dutt was asked to serve out the remainder of his sentence in March 2013.


In this case, the SC admits that there was a situation of “trial by media” but went on to say that the High Court was not affected by the so-called trial and upheld the decision of the High Court.


March 2013


Prakash v. State of Rajasthan [link] Justice P Sathasivam and Jagdiah Khehar, JJ.


A minor boy was missing and found dead on a hillock. An investigation was conducted and charge sheet filed against three accused under Indian Penal Code Sections 302 (Punishment for murder) and other provisions. The trial court sentenced them to imprisonment for life and the High Court confirmed the conviction and sentence. Accused-2 and 3 appealed to the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court held that the prosecution had established that the deceased was last seen with the accused through evidence presented, and this, combined with recovery of incriminating articles after disclosure statements of accused, the motive for the crime was enmity between the complainant and the accused and the threat given by the accused to finish the family of the complainant. It leads to a conclusion that appellants/accused kidnapped and murdered the deceased.


In this case, the court laid down a strict standard of proof that has to be applied in cases where the prosecution is relying on circumstantial evidence.


February 2013


Stephanie Joan Becker Vs State [Link]: Justice P Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi And Gopala Gowda, JJ.


The appellant, an American citizen, had sought an order appointing her as guardian of a 10-yearold female orphanby an application under section 7 of the Guardians and Wards Act. By another application under section 26 of the Act, she had also sought permission to take the child out of the country for the purpose of adoption. Both the applications were rejected on the sole ground that the appellant, being a single prospective adoptive parent, was aged about 53 years and the maximum permissible age as prescribed by the Government of India guidelines in force was 45. The High Court upheld the orders.


The Supreme Court held that the claim of appellant will have to be necessarily considered on the basis of the law as in force on date, namely, the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act and the rules framed thereunder and guidelines of 2011, which have been conferred a statutory sanction. However, having regard to totality of facts of the case, the court found that the proposed adoption would be beneficial to the child apart from being consistent with the legal entitlement of the appellant. The appellant was appointed legal guardian of the child and was granted permission to take the child to the USA. The court also ordered CARA to issue the necessary certificates.


What the judgment did in this case was that it allowed the adoption of an orphaned female child by a foreign citizen because it was beneficial to the child. So, it set a precedent for future cases of such adoption.


January 2013


Atlas Cycles v. Kitab Singh [Link]Justice P Sathasivam and Jagdish Khehar, JJ.


The respondent/workman was an employee of Atlas Cycles and wrote to the Chief Minister in October 1992stating that he was beaten up, given electric shock and forced to write a resignation letter. He was also barred from entering the factory the following morning. He also sent a letter to the company in October 1992.A reference was made to the labour court which was dismissed.


A single Judge of the High Court, in a writ petition filed by the workman, set aside the award and directed his reinstatement with 25% back wages.


The Supreme Court bench held that it is settled law that when the labour court arrived at a finding overlooking the evidence on record, it would be injustice and the writ Court (High Courts and Supreme Court) would be fully justified in interfering with such a case.


In this case, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the power of the High Courts and the Supreme Court in cases where, if any evidence is overlooked by a body lower down the judiciary, the writ of certiorari, which is guaranteed by the constitution, is available as a remedy.


November 2012


Rakesh Kapoor vs. State of Himachal Pradesh [Link] Justice P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi, JJ.


The appellant-accused was prosecuted under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The trial court convicted him under Sections 7 & 13(2) of the Act. The High Court set aside the conviction under Section 7 and confirmed conviction under Section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. The case then came to the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court held that conviction is not sustainable in view of lacuna in the prosecution case as regards demand of the bribe – accused is entitled to benefit of doubt and hence acquitted.


What this means is that in a case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, if there is any a gap in the evidence with regard to a bribe, the benefit of doubt will be in favour of the accused.


January 2012


State of Punjab vs. Balwinder Singh and Ors. [Link] Justice PSathasivam and J. Chelameswar, JJ


The bench headed by P Sathasivam held that while considering the quantum of sentence to be imposed for the offence of causing death or injury by rash and negligent driving of automobiles, one of the prime considerations should be deterrence.


For lessening the high rate of motor accidents due to careless and callous driving of vehicles, the courts are expected to consider all relevant facts and circumstances bearing on the question of sentence and proceed to impose a sentence proportional with the gravity of the offence.

  1. Abha Chawla Mohanty Reply

    December 30, 2013 at 7:51 pm


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