K. M. Nanavati vs State Of Maharashtra, [AIR 1962 SC 605]

Facts

KM Nananvati, a Naval officer was charged under Section 302 and 304 of the Indian Penal Code for the alleged murder of his wife’s secret lover.  The appellant’s wife Sylvia confessed to him about her illicit relationship with Ahuja. Nanavati, thereafter took Sylvia and his two children to a movie theatre, dropped them there and promised to pick them up after an hour. Meanwhile he went to his ship, issued his gun and catridges, went to Ahuja’s house and shot him dead. The Jury gave the verdict of “not guilty” by a majority of 8:1. The sessions judge did not agree with the verdict of the Jury and referred the matter to the High Court under section 307 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The division bench struck down the verdict of the Jury and held the accused guilty of murder under section 302 of IPC and sentenced him to go through rigourous imprisonment for life. The accused appealed to the Supreme Court against the Judgement of the High Court.

Issues

  1. Whether the High Court has the jurisdiction to interfere with the verdict of the Jury under Section 307 of the Code of Criminal Procedure?
  2. Whether the omission to  place certain evidence  before the  jury  amounts  to misdirection?
  3. Whether exception 1 to section 300 of IPC could have application in the present case?

Arguments

Prosecution:

The primary contention of the prosecution was that the High Court did not have the jurisdiction to interfere with the verdict of the Jury under section 307 of the Code on the ground of misdirections in charge. The imposed duty of the  High Court was only to decide the competency of the reference on a perusal  of the  order of reference itself and it had no jurisdiction to go into the merits of the case.

Defense:

The defence has argued that the High Court cannot go beyond the reference order, and should only limit itself to the reasons given by the Sessions Judge.

Observations

Issue I:

Section 307 confers wide interfering powers on the High Court to prevent an erroneous verdict of the Jury. It indicates that the sessions judge referring the verdict of the Jury to the High court must be convinced that no reasonable body of men could give the verdict based on the evidence presented. The reference is deemed to be competent in cases where the judge disagreed with the verdict of the jury and recorded the grounds of his opinion, irrespective of whether he was correct in forming such opinion. It will not be right of the High Court to reject the reference only because the reasons given in the order of reference did not sustain the view expressed by the judge. Sections 307 empowers the High Court to acquit or convict the accused after revisting the entire evidence, giving appropriate weightage to the opinion of the judge and the verdict of the jury.

In Ramanugrah Singh v. King Emperor[ (1946) 48 BOMLR 768 ], construed the words “necessary for the ends of justice” and laid down that the words mean that the Judge shall be of the opinion that the verdict of the jury is one which no reasonable body of men could have reached on the evidence.

Section 307(3) of the Code by empowering the High Court either to acquit or convict the accused after considering the entire evidence, giving due weight to the opinion of the Sessions Judge and the jury, virtually conferred the functions both of the jury and the Judge on it.

Issue II:

In Mustak Hussein  v. State  of Bombay [(1953) S.C. R.  809], it was held that a misdirection is something which judge while forming the charge tells the Jury in order to mislead them. An omission may also amount to misdirection in some cases. The sessions judge omitted to explain to the jury the difference between  the terms. “Lawful act”, “lawful manner”,“unlawful means” and “with proper care and caution” under section 80 of IPC, which is a serious misdirection that made the verdict of the jury erroneous.

Issue III:

Indian courts have not maintained consistency in the application of the doctrine of provocation in any given case. There is no standard of a reasonable man for the application of the doctrine. What a reasonable man will do in a given circumstance depends on various factors for example, customs, manners, way of life, traditional values etc. The fact that accused abused the deceased and the deceased abused back could not be said to be a provocation for the murder.

Held

Appeal of the accused failed.


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