While giving Bollywood actor Salman Khan benefit of doubt in the 2002 hit-and-run case, the Bombay High Court has observed that the prosecution's case was weak and appreciation of evidence by the trial court was not legal and proper.
"....in the considered view of this court, the appreciation of the evidence as is done by the trial court in the present matter is not proper and legal as per the settled principles of criminal jurisprudence," Justice A R Joshi said in the 350-page judgement which was uploaded on the High Court website on Wednesday night.
The judgement was orally pronounced in the court on December 10. The actor was present in the court when the operative part of the verdict was read out. "In this case, considering the various weaknesses in the case of the prosecution, various shortcomings such as non-examination of necessary and appropriate witnesses, the omissions and contradictions in the evidence of the injured witnesses which go to the root of the matter, definitely a doubt has arisen as to the involvement of the appellant for the offences with which he was charged," the judge said.
On the basis of this type of evidence, the appellant cannot be convicted though the apparent perception might be different as appearing in the mind of a common man, Justice Joshi, who retires on December 21, remarked. "...this is not a case in which prosecution has successfully established its case for all the charges," says the judgement.
On May 6 this year, Additional Sessions judge D W Deshpande had held Khan guilty on all counts including culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced him to five years' rigorous imprisonment. The High Court overturned the lower court judgement completely by acquitting Salman of all the charges. Though the investigation might be impartial, it was conducted in a careless and faulty manner with scant regard to the established procedure laid down in law, particularly the procedure required for establishing a chain of evidence when the case is based on biological evidence, the court said.
The investigation was so conducted as to loosen the prosecution case, the judge said. "It can be said without giving all the details that the trial court had erred in accepting the bills (of the hotel visited by Salman before the mishap) which were recovered without there being any panchnama and the bills altogether saddled with fabrication," said the judge.
"Secondly, evidence of Ravindra Patil (eye-witness and police bodyguard of Salman at the relevant time) was not marshaled properly and thirdly evidence to establish biological chain regarding alcohol consumption is not appreciated as per the mandate of law," the judge said.
"As such, consequently, it must be said that this is not a case in which the prosecution has successfully established its case for all the charges," Justice Joshi said. The HC also held that Patil's statement, recorded by a magistrate earlier, was inadmissible as evidence before the sessions court. "Various improvements were brought on record (by Ravindra Patil) and these were on the vital aspects firstly as to the drunkenness, secondly as to the witness cautioning the accused (Salman) to lower the speed and initially (Patil) asking the accused whether he will drive the car," the judge noted.
These improvements, brought on record during the cross-examination, had a bearing on the prosecution's case that Salman was drunk at the time, the High Court said. "Even in the first information report (lodged by Patil) there is no whisper as to the appellant/accused of being drunk during the incident. The entire FIR is regarding driving by the appellant and the speed of the car (being) 90¿100 kms per hour," said the judge.
The HC noted that Patil had named Salman's driver Ashok Singh in his evidence. Also, the investigating officer had admitted that Singh had come to police station after the mishap but his (Singh's) statement was not recorded. Singh had appeared as the defence witness in the trial court and said he was driving the car and not Salman. However, the trial court did not accept his version saying he had come to the court 13 years after the mishap.
The HC, however, held that Singh had come before the court at an appropriate stage of the trial.