Criminal Law

Supreme Court Judgments on Abetment of Suicide
IPC Section 306 pertains to abetment of suicide. Simply put, when one person drives another to commit suicide with a clear motive, followed by actions to drive another to commit suicide, it amounts to abetment of suicide. Recent Supreme Court judgments have established the importance of intention of the accused to prove this offence under section 306.

Supreme Court Judgment: Intention of the Accused to Drive a Person to Suicide
On 19th August 2010, the Supreme Court held that unless there is specific material and evidence of abetment to suicide, it will be hazardous to ask an accused person to undergo trial. As per section 306, any person who abets the commission of suicide shall be punished for a term which may extent to ten years imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine.

A Bench comprising of Justices V.S.Sirpukar and Cyriac Joseph observed that a person who commits suicide will not be available to verify the allegations made in the suicide note, therefore, irrelevant allegations shall not be used to prosecute a person under section 306, IPC. The Bench stated, “The intention of the accused to aid or to instigate or to abet the deceased to commit suicide is a must for this particular offence under IPC Section 306”

Supreme Court Judgments: Guilty or Not under Section 306 In the following instances, court judgments have held that an accused is guilty of abetment to suicide under section 306:

•    When a widow burns herself at the funeral pyre of her husband and the accused person assisted her in making the arrangements for doing so and even put ghee so that the fire burns well. All those who joined the procession were also held guilty under section 306.

•    Where a husband and his family harass the wife with dowry demands and this mental torture drives the wife to commit suicide. In the following instances, courts held that an accused shall not be considered guilty of abetment to suicide under section 306:

•    Where there was tension in the marital home of a newly married bride and she refused to eat food for three to four days, after which she committed suicide.

•    When there is a mere allegation of harassment at the time of death or written in a dying declaration.

•    Where a newly married bride was taunted and harassed verbally by in-laws for bringing less dowry and for giving birth to a girl child, the question was whether it amounted to instigation for the bride to commit suicide, and the court held “not guilty.”

•    When a girl was being blackmailed by a man who had photographs of her that she didn’t want her father to see, and he continued harassing her to either marry him or have illicit intercourse with him, it was held that the accused had no intention to drive her to commit suicide and that her act was an independent one.

When a person is charged under IPC section 306, it is triable by the Sessions Court as the alleged offence is a non-bailable offence.

Hostile Witness

Criminal law in India envisages a system whereby the accused person faces a fair trial. This includes giving the accused an opportunity to hear and refute any evidence presented against him in court. This evidence may be direct or circumstantial evidence, forensic evidence, etc. Another important evidence is the eye witness account. However, often we see witnesses turning hostile in many cases involving high-profile people.

Indian Criminal Law: Meaning of Hostile Witness

Simply put, Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC)section 152 of the safeguards accused persons from being forced to make self incriminating statements by force or threats made by police officers while taken for questioning. So, no matter what statements a police officer records from a witness, the process of law is such that a witness has to restate it and validate the recorded statements in a court of law, failing which the recorded statements by the police will not be considered as admissible evidence by the court. When a witness refuses to restate and validate the recorded statement, the witness is said to turn ‘hostile.’

Criminal Law in India: No Laws to Protect Witnesses in Criminal Cases The Supreme Court acknowledged that criminal law in India requires considerable reform in the case of NHRC vs. State of Gujarat. It stated, ‘no law has yet been enacted, not even a scheme has been framed by the Union of India or by a state government for giving protection to the witnesses.’

The only provision is Chapter XII of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, (CrPC), which pertains to the powers exercised by the police to investigate a criminal case. As per section 161 (3) of the Act, police officers have the power to record the statement of witnesses, but these statements are not admissible in court as per section 162(1).

Indian Criminal Law in India: Hostile Witnesses in Celebrity Cases Criminal law in India is criticized as fraught with danger for victims and their families because the administration of justice succumbs to political clout, procedural delays and emotional stress for the victims. What frustrates the administration of justice in criminal cases is when witnesses turn hostile. Think of some famous criminal cases such as the Jessica Lal case, the Best Bakery case and the Shiney Ahuja rape case. The issue of hostile witnesses made it very difficult for courts to administer justice promptly. When this happens with alarming frequency, this can pave the way for failure of the criminal justice system in India.

Reforming Criminal Law in India: Need of the Hour

‘One of the most essential reforms to improve the system of administering justice is to introduce provisions in criminal law in India to ensure protection of the identity of witnesses from the accused. However, this has to be done without violating the rights of the accused to a fair and speedy trial. Another urgent reform required in criminal law is to ensure that witnesses are put on a procedural protection plan so that they enjoy the protection of law and cannot be influenced, approached, threatened or hurt during the trial of the case.

Cruelty by Husband

Domestic Violence is a serious issue faced by several Indian women. Indian women are known to tolerate it in silence because they want to protect family honor and endure it for the sake of their children. However, Indian law recognizes cruelty as a reason for divorce.

How to Prove the Accused as Guilty

Further, criminal law in India defines cruelty as:

•    Any willful act, which is likely to drive a woman to commit suicide or cause serious injury to her or danger to her life, body or physical/mental health.

•    Harassing a woman to pressurize her to fulfill any illegal demand for any property or valuable belongings. Also, in case of failure on her part to meet such a demand.
To prove the first case, in accordance with criminal law in India, the prosecution has to establish that the act was conducted willfully, by the accused. Also, the nature of such an act was likely to compel the woman to commit suicide or cause serious injury to her or pose danger to her life, limb or physical/mental health. After, scrutinizing and validating the facts, the Court shall decide whether the woman was subjected to cruelty, by her husband or his relatives. Penalty for Commission of Cruelty by Husband

Criminal law in India recognizes both mental and physical torture as cruelty. However, the concept of cruelty varies from case to case, depending on the social and economic status of individuals. Whether a woman was subjected to cruelty or not, is also decided based on various factors, such as:

•    Matrimonial relationship between a woman and her husband.

•    Cultural background and temperament of the couple.

•    Status of life.

•    Status of health.

•    Level of interaction between the husband and wife.
Further, all types of harassment does not amount to cruelty. In order to be considered cruelty under the Indian laws, harassment must be commissioned with an intention to pressurize to meet an unlawful demand, such as get more dowry or money from the wife.