Case Commentaries

CRIMINAL LAW

SIDHARTHA VASHISHT @ MANU SHARMA V. STATE (NCP OF DELHI)

(2010) 6 SCC 1

Ms Saloni Mokati, Ms. Mukti Heliwal

INTRODUCTION:


The present case of Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma vs. State (NCP of Delhi) is a remarkable precedent in law which relates to many aspects of justice, law and order, administration, media and criminal procedure. There were questions raised regarding the reversed order of acquittal of the accused. It was said that the court should only interfere with such reversal of order when the court had sustained major infirmities and when the court believed that the lower court had misread or ignored some material facts or documents. The case highlights the lacunas in the administration system, it was fought for justice, it brought forth various campaigns of media and finally how justice delayed was not justice denied.


FACTS:


On the night of 29th April 1999, one of Delhi’s famous socialites and fashion designer, Beena Ramani, threw a lavish party to her husband George Manisot. Jessica Lal was a model and a bar-maid. After midnight, Manu Sharma with his friends walked in the party and demanded to be served liquor.Jessica Lal refused saying that the party was over and so was the liquor. He offered her Rs. 1000, on which Jessica Lal refused again. He then took out his gun (22 calibre pistol) and fired a bullet at the ceiling as an intimidating act.


Jessica again refused and Manu Sharma fired the second bullet at her which hit near her left eye as a result of which she fell down.Beena Ramani stopped Manu Sharma and questioned him as to why did he shoot her and demanded the weapon from him, but he did not hand it over and fled away. Jessica Lal was rushed to Ashlok Hospital from where she was shifted to Apollo Hospital. On the night of 29-30/1999, at 2:20 am, a telephonic communication was made to the Police station Mehrauli, informing that someone in white shirt and jeans had shot someone.at the hospital sub inspector Sunil Kumar met Beena Ramani and questioned her about the incident.


He directed the police officers to talk to Shyan Munshi, since he was present when the incident occured and knew everything.Therefore his statement was recorded and endorsement was made for the registration of FIR. At 4:00 am, FIR at Police Station Mehrauli was registered. Sub inspector Sunil was also informed about the lifting of the Black Safari, from the spot. Two empty cartridges were also scize. On 30th April 1999, Jessica Lal died.


Charges were framed for the offences under Section 302 IPC/201/ 120B IPC and Section 27 of Arms Act was charged against Manu Shrma, charges under Section 201/120B IPC was framed against Vikas Yadav, Tony Gill and Alok Khanna and charges under section 212 IPC were framed against Havinder Chopra, Raja Chopra, Ruby Gill and Yograj Singh. Hence the trial commenced. All the Nine accused were acquitted by the trial court’s session Judge including Manu Sharma, which was challenged by the prosecution by appeal before the high court. The High Court dismissed the impugned order of the trial court of acquittal and convicted and all the Nine accused of the case. All the appeals are devoid of any merit and are accordingly dismissed by the Supreme Court.


JUDGMENT:


The Supreme Court in the present case came to conclusion through certain issues and circumstances which were-


● The appellate Court has all the necessary powers to re-evaluate the evidence let in before the trial Court as well as the conclusions reached. It has a duty to specify the compelling and substantial reasons in case it reverses the order of acquittal passed by the trial Court. In the case on hand, the High Court by adhering to all the ingredients and by giving cogent and adequate reasons reversed the order of acquittal.


● The presence of the accused at the scene of crime was proved through the ocular testimonies of various witnesses.


● Calls purely for the reason of getting the police to the scene of crime do not necessarily constitute the FIR. The FIR was properly lodged as per the statement of Shyan Munshi (bartender).


● The laboratory reports in the present case are vague and ambiguous and, therefore, they cannot be relied upon to reach any specific conclusion regarding the incident.


● 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 prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.


The High Court has analyzed all the evidence and arrived at the correct conclusion.The High Court has rightly convicted the other two accused, namely, Amardeep Singh Gill @ Tony Gill and Vikas Yadav. It was held that the prosecution has established its case beyond doubt against the appellants and it was concluded by SC that all the appeals are devoid of any merit and are accordingly dismissed.


BACKGROUND:


After the shooting incident, all of them had absconded. The murder weapon was not recorvered and was a subject of question during the trial of proceedings. In the party of about 300 people, most of them were not ready to testify and pleaded that they were not present when the gun shot was fired. Only 7 people from the party were ready to testify, amongst which prime eye witness Shayan Munshi had turned hostile. The manager and the waiter were also paid taking advantage of their poverty, so that their testimony should not be favouring the deceased.


During the initial investigation, police had found out two empty cartridges from the crime scene, and the live bullet found in the Tata Safari was a 22”cartridge and the gun belonging to Manu Sharma was also a 22” pistol which was used for the crime to commit murder. Later on the defence came up with a story that the bullet was fired from two different guns and the two cartridges belonged to two different pistols. Therefore, they stated that two people fired the gun and Manu Sharma was not the one who killed Jessica. Ballistic Report by expert Roop Singh was manipulated and Roop Singh stated that "it appears that the two cartridge cases are from two different pistols."[1]The court said that such a vague opinion of the expert can neither be relied upon nor can be any basis to come to a conclusion that there were two persons who had fired two different shots. The trial court had relied heavily on the ballistic report while acquitting Manu Sharma in the case which had sparked a public outcry, after which the Delhi Police went for an appeal in the high court. The apex court, however, rejected the two-weapon theory on the ground that the findings of two forensic experts were vague.


The Delhi Police failed to sustain the grounds that they have made the case as the Delhi Police was unable to find the murder weapon. When all doors were shut on their faces, it was the media that came to support them. News Magazine like Tehelka, took this opportunity to expose the loopholes of the trial and to fight for Jessica to get justice for her. The witnesses were filmed secretly by the media where they confessed about turning hostile during trial proceedings because they either had a choice to take the money or the threat to face the dire consequences. This was done through a sting operation. Accused’s audio recording during his police custody was also out in the public where he openly confessed about killing her since she denied to serve him alcohol and it was out of rage and humiliation that he did so. This led to a SMS campaign- Justice for Jessica, and ultimately under public pressure, police finally decided to file an appeal in the HC.


ANALYSIS:


The SC upheld the decision of the HC by punishing the nine accused under relevant sections of IPC. The court was correct in giving such a decision since this case has been manipulated from the very beginning. The judicial system plays a vital role when it comes to giving justice to the victim and punishment to the wrongdoer. Jessica Lal had been shot dead for such a frivolous reason for not serving alcohol and her life was not even worth 1000 bucks for the accused, Manu Sharma. Since the accused's father had both power and position, he used it to either bribe the witnesses or to intimidate them that it could cost them their life.


Even after there being so many witnesses and an eyewitness in a party of more than 300 people, the accused got a clean chit from the trial court. It was because all the witnesses had turned hostile, the eyewitness had turned hostile, the Ballistic report showed the presence of bullets from two different guns i.e. two gun theories . A major reason for this was also that the police was unable to find the murder weapon and nothing could be done. All these instances clearly show the flaw in the police administration as well as the lacunas in the justice system.


Courts and police are two such bodies which should always remain unbiased and free from money, power and manipulation. Such sensitive cases if not dealt in the correct manner would result in people not trusting these bodies and believing that justice prevails in the hands of rich people and not to the oppressed person. Media played a very important role in bringing justice to the family and to Jesssica Lal. SC was right in considering all the factors and circumstances of the case, it gave a detailed reasoning as to why their decision was the right decision to be made and hence gave life imprisonment to the accused Manu Sharma for murder under Sec.302 of IPC. This proved that justice can be delayed but not denied.


It is a landmark case where it was proven by the media and the courts that money and power cannot buy justice and the wrongdoer needs to be behind the bar just like other criminals. There were a lot of factors that came into light such as hostile witness, witness tampering, power of media and public and ultimately justice, law and order. But recently in June, 2020 the accused got released from all the charges from the Tihar Jail because of his good behavior and Manu Sharma stated that he was s just 23 years old, still figuring out his life and business, and he is extremely apologetic for his acts and had become a different version of himself now. Though he did show good behavior crimes like these, and punishment for life imprisonment is given for a reason, that shouldn’t be changed for changing circumstances.


Declaratory precedent is merely the application of already existing rule of law. In case of declaratory precedent rule is applied because it is already a law. In H.N. Rishbud & amp; Inder Singh v. The State of Delhi[2]It was cited that the rule laid down in this case was that investigation usually starts on information relating to commission of an offence given to an officer in-charge of a police station and recorded under Section 154 of the Code. The same was the situation in the present case as well where the court gave proper reasoning as to why the telephonic cryptic call by PW-12 was not to be considered as a FIR, but PW-2 i.e. Shayan Munshi’s statements were considered as FIR. The reason behind the same was that Shayan’s statement was a complaint about the commission of an offence but the telephonic call though being made before the statements by eye witnesses cannot be as a FIR because it only informed about some crime being committed.


In the case of A.E.G. Carapiet v. A.Y. Derderian,[3] it was held that every witness must be cross-examined before being discredited. This precedent is persuasive because it is the decision of the lower court which might back the argument. The prosecution cannot challenge the expert at the stage of appeal when his testimony went unchallenged at the stage of the trial. This was important for the present case because most of the witness statements were discredited in the lower court because their statement only proved the presence of the accused on the crime scene, and they were not eyewitnesses so the statements didn’t prove commission of crime by accused Manu Sharma. But the same was credited by the HC as well as the SC while reconsidering the case. This precedent was binding in such a way that the question deals with the issue that every witness must be cross-examined before being discredited. Although the facts of the two cases may be different but the legal point involved is the same and hence the decision is binding.


CONCLUSION:


In Criminal Procedure, there are many case laws defining different aspects of IPC, and in the part relating to the pre-trial procedure, the case of Jessica Lal is considered to be a landmark judgment with the facts being a near to clear elaboration of the pre-trial process, with elaborate reasoning on what can be considered as the first initial information received by the police and what can constitute in the FIR, search and seizure of the evidences, the verification and arrest of the accused and the overall procedure.


In this judgment the very main contention presented by the defence council was whether the information received by Mr. Shyam Munshi should be considered as the first initial information on the basis of which the FIR registered by the Police, because there were two more communications made before that, which was the telephonic cryptic call made to inform about the commission of crime.


This was answered by the court and a demarcation was set over what information can constitute as the initial information of the offence. That being, the information should not be cryptic and vague in nature.The court also accepted the witness testimony which was proving beyond reasonable doubt about how the accused was responsible for the crime. Therefore it is a landmark judgment of involvance of the media aiding the case, and how a high profile case can be manipulated by few rich hands.



Reference:


[1] Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma vs. State (NCP of Delhi),Criminal Appeal No. 179 Of 2007.

[2]  H.N. Rishbud & amp; Inder Singh v. The State of Delhi1955 AIR 196, 1955 SCR (1)1150

[3] A.E.G. Carapiet v. A.Y. Derderian AIR 1961 Cal 359

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