Free Press Journal

Bombay High Court acquits 41-year-old man in 2 murders, says he was of ‘unsound’ mind


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Mumbai: In a bizarre ruling, a Thane-based man, convicted for murder in two separate cases, recently got respite, after the Bombay High Court came to his aid. The court has acquitted the 41-year-old in view of his ‘unsound’ mind and ruled that he cannot be held responsible for the ‘offence’ of murder.

The division bench of Justices Bhushan Gavai and Sarang Kotwal, surprisingly, did not consider the fact that the Mira Road-based accused had confessed to having committed the murder. The judgement authored by Justice Gavai said, “Even if a reasonable doubt is created in the mind of the court with regard to mental condition of the accused at the time of occurrence, a benefit has to be given to the accused.” The ruling was pronounced in response to the criminal appeal filed by Mohammed Rafiq Shaha-buddin Shaikh, challenging the verdict of the Thane Sessions Court. He was sentenced to life time imprisonment along with a fine of  Rs 5,000.

Shaikh, however, sought pardon citing Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which does not consider any act committed by a person with unsound mind as an ‘offence.’ According to the prosecution case, Shaikh murdered the watchman of his society in November 2007, who did not ‘obey his orders’ to irrigate plants at his house. The accused Shaikh had also informed an eye witness, who was a member of the society, that he killed the watchman. Shaikh was accordingly arrested and a trial was conducted.

Though Shaikh did not raise any contention of being ‘unsound’ during the course of trial, he, however sought relief under Section 84 of the IPC on the day the trial court convicted him and was about to pronounce the sentence. He claimed that he was suffering from ‘paranoid schizophrenia’ and thus had no knowledge of the nature of crime he was committing at the time when he brutally assaulted the watchman with a knife. The trial court, however, dismissed his argument saying, “During the course of trial, at least, Shaikh was knowing the charges levelled against him and, at that time, at least, he could have said that he had lost the power of understanding the nature of the act he committed.”

Terming this finding of the trial court as ‘errant’, Justice Gavai said, “The circumstance of unsoundness of mind before and after the incident is a relevant fact to draw the inference that Shaikh was under ailment at the relevant time, when he committed the crime. We, therefore, find that the reasoning given by the trial judge to reject the claim raised by Shaikh, under Section 84 of the IPC, is totally erroneous. The view taken by the court is not correct.” Earlier, Shaikh was arrested for killing a woman. The trial court had then held that the prosecution has proved his guilt, but granted a ‘benefit of doubt’ by relying on Section 84 of the IPC. The trial court had accordingly acquitted him in that case.