The phrase “Soon Before” Section 304B IPC Cannot Mean ‘Immediately Before’: Supreme Court Issues Guidelines For Trial In Dowry Death Cases

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Case: Satbir Singh Vs. State Of Haryana

Coram: CJI NV Ramana, Justice Aniruddha Bose

Case: [CRA 1735­-1736 OF 2010]

Court Observation: “Being a criminal statute, generally it is to be interpreted strictly. However, where strict interpretation leads to absurdity or goes against the spirit of legislation, the courts may in appropriate cases place reliance upon the genuine import of the words, taken in their usual sense to resolve such ambiguities.”

“Considering the significance of such a legislation, a strict interpretation would defeat the very object for which it was enacted. Therefore, it is safe to deduce that when the legislature used the words, “soon before” they did not mean “immediately before”.

“Therefore, Courts should use their discretion to determine if the period between the cruelty or harassment and the death of the victim would come within the term “soon before”. What is pivotal to the above determination, is the establishment of a “proximate and live link” between the cruelty and the consequential death of the victim.”

“Therefore, once all the essential ingredients are established by the prosecution, the presumption under Section 113­B, Evidence Act mandatorily operates against the accused. This presumption of causality that arises can be rebutted by the accused. “

“The usage of rebuttable presumption of causality, under Section 113­B, Evidence Act, creates a greater responsibility on Judges, defense and prosecution. They need to be extra careful during conducting criminal trials relating to Section 304­B, IPC. In order to address this precarious situation, procedural law has some safeguards, which merits mentioning herein.”

“The reason for such non categorization is due to the fact that death occurring “otherwise than under normal circumstances” can, in cases, be homicidal or suicidal or accidental. However, the Section 304­B, IPC endeavors to also 16 address those situations wherein murders or suicide are masqueraded as accidents. 23. Therefore, if all the other ingredients of Section 304­B IPC are fulfilled, any death whether caused by burns or by bodily injury or occurring otherwise than under normal circumstances shall, as per the legislative mandate, be called a “dowry death” and the woman’s husband or his relative “shall be deemed to have caused her death” unless proved otherwise. The section clearly specifies what constitutes the offence of dowry death and also identifies the single offender or multiple offenders who has or have caused the dowry death”



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