Legal provisions regarding appeals to superior Courts from convictions – Section 374 of CrPc

(i) Appeal to the Court of Sessions:

According to Section 374(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, subject to restrictions mentioned in Sections 372, 375 and 376 of the Code and as otherwise provided in Section 374(2) of the Code in respect of an appeal to a High Court, any person;

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(a) Convicted on a trial held by a Metropolitan Magistrate or Assistant Sessions Judge or Magistrate of the first class, or of the second class; or

(b) Sentenced under Section 325, i.e., when Magistrate cannot pass sentence sufficiently severe; or

(c) In respect of whom an order has been made or a sentence has been passed under Section 360 by any Magistrate, i.e., order to release on probation of good conduct or after admonition, may appeal to the Court of Session.

(ii) Appeal to High Court:

According to Section 374(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, subject to restrictions mentioned in Sections 372, 375 and 376 of the Code, any person convicted on a trial held by;

(a) A Sessions Judge or Additional Sessions Judge; or

(b) Any other Court, on a trial, in which a sentence of imprisonment for more than seven years has been passed against him or against any other person convicted at the same trial, may appeal to the High Court.

(iii) Appeal to the Supreme Court:

(a) According to Section 374(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, any person convicted on a trial held by a High Court in its extraordinary original criminal jurisdiction may appeal to the Supreme Court.

(b) As per Section 379 of the Code, where the High Court has, on appeal, reversed an order of acquittal of an accused person and convicted him and sentenced him to death or to imprisonment for life or to imprisonment for a term of ten years or more, he may appeal to the Supreme Court.

(c) As per Article 132(1) of the Constitution of India, an appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court from any judgment, decree or final order of a High Court in the territory of India, whether in a Civil, Criminal or other proceeding, if the High Court certifies under Article 134-A that the case involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of this Constitution.

(d) Regarding appellate jurisdiction of Supreme Court in regard to criminal matters. Article 134 of the Constitution of India provides the following provisions:

(1) An appeal shall lie to the Supreme Court from any judgment, final order or sentence in a criminal proceeding of a High Court in the territory of India if the High Court:

(a) Has an appeal reversed an order of acquittal of an accused person and sentenced him to death; or

(b) Has withdrawn for trial before itself any case from any Court subordinate to its authority and has in such trial convicted the accused person and sentenced him to death; or

(c) Certifies under Article 134-A that the case is a fit one for appeal to the Supreme Court.

However, an appeal under sub-clause (c) shall lie subject to such provisions as may be made in that behalf under clause (1) of Article 145 and to such conditions as the High Court may establish or require.

(2) Parliament may by law confer on the Supreme Court any further powers to entertain and hear appeals from any judgment, final order or sentence in a criminal proceeding of a High Court in the territory of India subject to such conditions and limitations as may be specified in such law.

(e) According to Article 136(1) of the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court may, in its discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made by any Court or tribunal in the territory of India.

(f) According to the Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Act, 1970 an accused person may prefer an appeal as of right to the Supreme Court against an order of the High Court sentencing him to an imprisonment for life or for a period of not less than ten years. Such an order of the High Court shall either be a reversal of an order of acquittal or where the High Court has withdrawn a case from a subordinate Court to itself for trial and sentenced the accused to imprisonment for a term specified above.

Delay in hearing of conviction appeal not proper:

Delay in hearing of conviction appeal had been deprecated by High Court since it deprives right of convict to persuade Court to reduce sentence.

No embargo on appellate Court reviewing evidence upon which an order of acquittal was based—Principles to be followed by appellate Court:

There is no embargo on the appellate Court reviewing the evidence upon which an order of acquittal is based. Generally, the order of acquittal shall not be interfered with because the presumption of innocence of the accused is further strengthened by acquittal.

The golden thread, which runs through the web of administration of justice in criminal cases, is that if two views are possible on the evidence adduced in the case, one pointing to the guilt of the accused and the other to his innocence, the view which is favourable to the accused should be adopted. The paramount consideration of the Court is to ensure that miscarriage of justice is prevented.

A miscarriage of justice which may arise from acquittal of the guilty is no less than from the conviction of an innocent. In a case where admissible evidence is ignored, a duty is cast upon the appellate Court to re-appreciate the evidence where the accused has been acquitted, for the purpose of ascertaining as to whether any of the accused really committed any offence or not.

The principle to be followed by appellate Court considering the appeal against the judgment of acquittal is to interfere only when there are compelling and substantial reasons for doing so. If the impugned judgment is clearly unreasonable and relevant and convicting materials have been unjustifiably eliminated in the process, it is a compelling reason for interference.

Power of appellate Court for reduction of sentence to sentence already undergone:

The appellate or revisional Courts reduce the sentence while maintaining the conviction to sentence already undergone without even noticing what is the period already undergone. The Courts should bear in mind that there is a requirement in law that every conviction should be followed by an appropriate sentence within the period stipulated in law. Discretion in this regard is not absolute or whimsical.

It is controlled by law and to some extent by judicial discretion, applicable to the facts of the case. Therefore, there is a need for the Courts to apply its mind while imposing sentence. In the instant case, the Court while convicting the respondent for an offence punishable under Section 304, Part II of I.P.C. which has maximum sentence up to 10 years thought it fit to impose the sentence already undergone without even applying its mind as to why it should be less than 10 years or for that matter what is the sentence already undergone. We seriously deprecate such misplaced generosity on the part of the Courts while imposing sentence.

Appeal against conviction—High Court being final Court of fact should critically scrutinize the evidence:

The mere fact that the witnesses are consistent in what they say is not a sure guarantee of their truthfulness. The witnesses are subjected to cross-examination to bring out facts which may persuade a Court to hold, that though consistent, their evidence is not acceptable for any other reason.

If the Court comes to the conclusion that the conduct of the witnesses is such that it renders the case of the prosecution doubtful or incredible, or that their presence at the place of occurrence as eyewitnesses is suspect, the Court may reject their evidence. That is why it is necessary for the High Court to critically scrutinize the evidence.

In S. Raghu Ramaiah v. State of Andhra Pradeshan appeal against conviction was made to the High Court of A.P. The High Court of A.P. after referring to evidence and submissions disposed of appeal by cryptic and non-reasoned order. There is no discussion about the merits of the case.

This certainly is not an appropriate way to deal with a criminal appeal. Therefore, without expressing any opinion on the merits of the case, the Supreme Court set aside the impugned judgment and remits the matter for a fresh consideration in accordance with law.

Powers of appellate Court for appeal against conviction:

Appellate Court while considering appeal had merely proceeded to consider the quantum of sentence and grant of remission without considering factual aspects of the case. Therefore, as the appellants had been denied the benefit of appeal provided under the Code, hence, matter was remanded for fresh decision on merits.

Resort to Section 374 when needed:

The provision of Section 374 (1) of the Code shall be attracted only in a case “decided by the High Court in its Letters Patent jurisdiction which in terms is ‘extraordinary original criminal jurisdiction.