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Proof beyond reasonable doubt

June 27, 2021

Introduction:—  The burden on the prosecution to establish the guilt of an accused beyond all reasonable doubt remains. However, the prosecution cannot be freed from this burden by a mere presumption, as was held in R. v. Lambert, (2002) 2 AC 545; (2001) 3 All ER 577. In fact , the principle of law that accused is presumed to be innocent depends upon the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt. See Vijayee Singh Vs. State of U.P. AIR 1990 SC 1459; Dahyabhai Chhaganbhai Thakkar  Vs. State of Gujarat, AIR 1964 SC page 1563. The principle of law that the benefit of doubt always belongs to the accused was reiterated in State of Rajasthan v. Ani, (1997) 6 SCC p.162 : 1997 SCC (Cri) 851; State of West Bengal. Vs. Mir Mohammad Omar, 2000 SCC (Criminal) 1516.

Proof beyond reasonable doubt:—

Person has a profound right not to be convicted of an offence which is not established by the evidential standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt. Doubts would be called reasonable if they are free from a zest for abstract speculation. Law cannot afford any favorite other than the truth. To constitute reasonable doubt, it must be free from an overemotional response. Doubts must be actual and substantial doubts as to the guilt of the accused persons arising from the evidence or from the lack of it, as opposed to mere vague apprehensions. A reasonable doubt is not an imaginary, trivial or a merely possible doubt; but a fair doubt based upon reason and common sense. It must grow out of the evidence in the case, Ramakant Rai Vs. Madan Rai, (2003) 12 SCC 395.

Observation in Malimath Committee Report:—
It is therefore clear that “proof beyond reasonabledoubt” is not an absolute principle of universal application and deviations can be made by the legislature. Deviations can take different forms such as shifting the burden of proof to the prosecution or prescribing a standard of proof lower than “proof beyondreasonable doubt”. As long as the accused has the opportunity to adduce evidence to nullify the adverse effect such deviation will not offend Arts. 14 or 21 ofthe Constitution of India.

His Lirdship Justice Krishna Iyer expressed his views about the standard of proof beyond reasonable doub, in the case of Shivaji Sahabrao Bobade v. State of Maharashtra,1973 SCC (Cri) 1033, 1039; State ofW.B. v. Mir Mohammad Omar,  2000 SCC (Cri) 1516, 1525. , a fortiori, Malimath Committee Report relied upon this ruling.

 It is a cardinal principle of criminal jurisprudence that the guilt of the accused must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. The burden of proving its case beyond all reasonable doubt lies on the prosecution and it never shifts. Another golden thread which runs through the web of the 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. [Vide Kali Ram Vs. State of Himachal Pradesh, (1973) 2 SCC 808; State of Rajasthan Vs. Raja Ram, (2003) 8 SCC 180;  Chandrappa & Ors. vs. State of Karnataka, (2007) 4 SCC 415; Upendra Pradhan Vs. State of Orissa, (2015) 11 SCC 124 and Golbar Hussain & Ors. Vs. State of Assam and Anr., (2015) 11 SCC 242].— See. Harbeer Singh vs. Sheeshpal , (2016) 16 SCC 418.

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