Karnataka HC orders training at judicial academy for District Judge who granted bail to dowry death accused

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The Karnataka High Court recently cancelled bail which had been granted by an Additional District and Sessions Judge, Mysuru, in a dowry death case observing that the trial court failed to exercise judicial discretion and had passed perverse and capricious orders [Sunil Kumar v. State and Ors].

Pertinently, the Court directed that the Additional District and Sessions Judge who had granted bail, should be sent to the Judicial Academy for training in applying judicious thought process and exercising judicial discretion before granting bail in heinous offences.

“It is appropriate to direct the Registry to post the Judicial Officer for training in the Judicial Academy to make endeavour to learn judicial discretion, in the interest of the institution and to protect the interest of seekers of justice, while granting the bail,” the High Court said.

Single-judge Justice HP Sandesh said that the approach of the trial court in granting bail to the accused, who had been accused of heinous offences and before investigation had been completed, was perverse and capricious. While a detailed evaluation of facts on merits is not required for a bail order, the court cannot be oblivious of its duty to apply judicial mind, the High Court said.

“It is appropriate to send the copy of this order to the trial judge, who exercised discretionary powers under Sections 438 and 439 of Cr.PC, in a heinous offence of taking away the life of a victim, who was married one year prior to the incident, and prior to her death, she had sent voice messages to the neighbour of the complainant. That being the case, the trial court lost sight of the judicious thought process…. and failed to exercise judicial discretion and failed to take note of complaint allegations particularly dowry harassment and about the panchayath held before her death regarding additional dowry harassment,” the order stated.

The accused in this case had been charged with offences under Sections 498-A (cruelty to woman by husband or relatives of husband), 304-B (dowry death) read with 34 (acts done in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Sections 3 (giving or taking dowry) and 4 (demanding dowry) of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

The complainant, the younger brother of the deceased woman, filed a complaint stating that the accused husband and the victim, Sunitha got married in 2020, at which time her family had given gold ornaments and cash of ₹3,50,000, as well as borne the expenses of the wedding.

Two months later the husband quarreled with his wife demanding ₹6 lakh for the construction of his house. A Panchayat meeting was held in this regard, and Sunitha’s mother sent her back to her husband, promising that they would contribute to building his house. However, as their crops failed that year they were unable to contribute financially and the accused-husband assaulted his wife.

In February 2021, the complainant-brother received a call that his sister was admitted to a hospital with burn injuries, following which she died. When he reached her village he was informed that her death was accidental, which was recorded in the police station.

After her funeral however, the complainant found that his sister had sent voice messages to his neighbour saying that if anything wrong happened to her, her husband and the other two accused would be responsible. Following this discovery, he lodged a complaint and the police began investigation and filed a chargesheet against the accused persons.

Two of the accused sought anticipatory bail, and one applied for regular bail, all of which were granted by the trial court, on the grounds that none of the offences are exclusively punishable with death or life imprisonment, and it was only after the neighbour revealed the voice messages that the complaint was lodged.

It said that whether the messages were really recorded by the deceased Sunitha, and the ownership of mobile phone can only be ascertained at the time of trial.

The trial court further noted that if the deceased were subject to mental and physical cruelty in connection with dowry, she would have told her family about it.

The High Court noted that a specific allegation had been made that the deceased wife had before her death sent voice messages to her brother’s neighbour from her husband’s phone saying that if anything were to happen to her the accused would be responsible. In light of this, the observation of the trial court that it had to be ascertained whether the phone belonged to the deceased was callous.

Even though the accused are charged with heinous offences, and the death of the victim was because of burn injuries, the trial court invoked its powers under Section 438 (anticipatory bail) of the CrPC, granting bail to the accused without even waiting for the investigation to be completed, said the High Court.

The trial court had “lost sight of the heinous offence”, that the victim who was married in 2020 lost her life within a year by burn injuries and cruelty in her matrimonial home, the Bench noted.

Referring to the judgement of the Apex Court in Ramesh Bhavan Rathod v Vishanbhai Hirabhai Makwana Makwana (Koli) & Anr, the Court said that while a detailed evaluation of facts and merits is not required to consider a bail application, the (trial) court cannot be oblivious to its duty to apply judicial mind and to record reasons for the purpose of deciding bail. The grant of bail involves the exercise of judicial discretion.

Terming the order of the trial court as “perverse and capricious”, the Court cancelled the bail granted to the accused and directed them to be taken back into custody.

Further, it directed the registry of the High Court to seek appropriate orders from the Chief Justice to post the Additional District and Sessions Judge who passed the order, to be sent to judicial academy for training.

The Court also directed that a copy of the order be sent to the judge who had granted bail.

Advocate Hemanth Kumar SR represented the petitioner, and High Court Government Pleader Krishna Kumar KK appeared for the State.

Read Order here

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