Supreme Court overturns Madras HC order imposing imprisonment and fine under customs law as no opportunity for cross-examination was given
The Supreme Court overturned the Madras High Court order imposing imprisonment and a fine under the Customs Act because no opportunity for cross-examination was given.
The Madras High Court, under the impugned judgment, proceeded to register the convictions of all six defendants and imposed a term of imprisonment of one year and a fine of Rs. 50,000 / – each and to failure to receive an additional six months of rigorous imprisonment. She therefore allowed both appeals.
The anti-smuggling wing of the Tuticorin Customs Department raided a warehouse after receiving specific information. During the raid, large quantities of cardboard boxes were recovered. Three people were also present, who identified themselves as Rahman Sait aka Nathan, Selvaraj and Sullan. During questioning, Nathan admitted that 419 cardboard boxes contained sandalwood billets / sticks and 57 cardboard boxes contained Mangalore tiles. All of the above cardboard boxes were kept for smuggling from Tuticorin to Singapore and delivered to an RN Contractors Enterprise, Singapore.
Mr. Vikramjit Banerjee, Additional Attorney General of the Customs Department, although he could not dispute the argument that evidence of only one case was taken into consideration when deciding both appeals, however argued that , since the evidence in both cases was identical, no error could be alleged by the appellants. He added that no prejudice was caused to the appellants as long as the evidence was the same in both trials.
The three judges of the bench DY Chandrachud, Judge Vikram Nath and Judge BVNagarathna held that in criminal trials against an accused, the distinctiveness of the evidence is paramount in light of the accused’s right to a fair trial , which encompasses two important aspects as well as others, namely, on the one hand, the recording of evidence in the presence of the accused or his litigant and, on the other, the right of the accused against -interrogate witnesses. These facts are of course subject to the exceptions provided for by law. In other words, the guilt of an accused cannot be determined on the basis of any evidence, which has not been entered in his presence or in the presence of his litigant and for which he is not. has not had the opportunity to cross-examine, unless the matter falls under exceptions in the law.
“Evidence recorded in a criminal trial against an accused is limited to the guilt of that accused only and has no bearing on a co-accused, who was tried on the basis of evidence recorded in a separate trial, albeit for the commission of the same offense, ”said the Apex Court.
“We find that the learned single judge of the High Court apparently did not adopt the correct procedure prescribed by law and, therefore, the judgment of the High Court must be set aside. Once a common judgment is set aside for one appeal, it cannot be confirmed for another appeal. There can be no overturning of the judgment especially when it occurs in a criminal case, where the rights of the accused are as important as the rights of a victim. Therefore, it would be in the order of things and in the interests of the parties for the cases to be referred to the High Court for a new decision in accordance with the law, ”the court added.
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