The Supreme Court recently held that conviction of a husband and his relatives for cruelty to wife under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) would not be sustainable when the marriage between the parties to dispute had been declared null and void [P Sivakumar and Others v. State represented by the Deputy Superintendent of Police].
A division bench of Justices BR Gavai and Vikram Nath, therefore, acquitted the appellant-husband and his parents who were convicted by the Madras High Court Section 498A IPC and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.
The Court was hearing an appeal against the decision of the Madras High Court which had reversed the acquittal of the trial court.
As per the facts of the case, on December 4, 2003, the appellant-husband got married to respondent-wife. However, soon after the marriage, disputes arose between the parties and they started residing separately.
Subsequently, respondent-wife filed a complaint against her husband and in-laws under Section 498A IPC and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.
The trial court acquitted all the accused persons of all the offences. The State filed an appeal against the same before the High Court and the respondent-wife preferred a revision petition.
The High Court partly allowed the appeal and convicted the three accused persons.
Aggrieved, the appellants preferred the present appeal before the apex court.
Before the Supreme Court, Senior Advocate S Nagamathu, appearing for the appellants highlighted that the marriage between the parties was held to be null and void by the Madras High Court on February 25, 2021.
It was further submitted that in view of the judgment in the case of Shivcharan Lal Verma v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2007), the conviction under Section 498A would not be sustainable, since the marriage between the parties had been declared void.
On the other hand, Advocate Joseph Aristotle, appearing for the respondents, submitted that even if it is held that the conviction under Section 498A IPC is not sustainable, the conviction under Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act would still remain.
The Supreme Court agreed with the arguments of the appellant stating that when the marriage has been declared null and void, there can be no conviction under Section 498A IPC.
“Undisputedly, the marriage between the appellant No.1 and PW-1 has been found to be null and void. As such the conviction under Section 498-A IPC would not be sustainable in view of the judgment of this Court in the case Shivcharan Lal Verma’s case,” the Court said.
With regard to conviction of the appellants under Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, the Court agreed with the reasoning given by the trial court.
“So far as the conviction under Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act is concerned, the learned trial judge by an elaborate reasoning, arrived at after appreciation of evidence, has found that the prosecution has failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt,” the Court noted.
In an appeal/revision, the High court could have set aside the order of acquittal only if the findings as recorded by the trial Court were perverse or impossible, the Supreme Court said.
Therefore, finding no perversity in the approach adopted by the trial Judge, the Supreme Court set aside the order of the High Court and restored the trial court order which had acquitted the appellants.