High courts cannot reappraise evidence to determine whether a criminal charge is made out or not, as the power is vested only with the trial court, the Supreme Court has ruled.
A bench of justices Swatanter Kumar and Ranjana Prakash Desai said it is for the trial court to decide whether prima facie the case is made out for framing of the charges and the high courts cannot interfere with such decisions.
"The high court has in its revisional jurisdiction appraised the evidence which it could not have done. It is the trial court which has to decide whether evidence on record is sufficient to make out a prima facie case against the accused so as to frame charge against him.
"Pertinently, even the trial court cannot conduct roving and fishing inquiry into the evidence. It has only to consider whether evidence collected by the prosecution discloses prima facie case against the accused or not," the apex court said.
It passed the ruling while upholding the appeal filed by one Ashish Chadha challenging a Himachal Pradesh High Court judgement setting aside the criminal charges framed by the special court, Chamba against former MLA Asha Kumari and her husband Brijender Singh.
Though the special court had framed charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and grabbing of government land, against the accused, the high court set aside the charges framed and also transferred the trial to the special court, Kangra on an application moved by the the ex-legislator.
The apex court said such a transfer has a demoralising effect on the trial courts as it can be done only in cases where there is concrete material that the trial cannot be held in a fair and free manner.
The apex court regretted that the high court interfered in the matter and formed a prima facie opinion by going through the entries in the records and virtually acquitted the accused.
"The high court unnecessarily observed that the charge is vague. It overstepped its revisional jurisdiction. In our opinion, whether revenue entries concerned are genuine or not will also have to be decided by the trial court after perusing the evidence led by the parties," the bench said.
According to the apex court, a prima facie opinion of the high court in such a strongly worded language is likely to influence the trial court.
"By expressing opinion on merits of the case, the high court almost decided the matter in favour of respondent no. 1 thus frustrating the remand and virtually acquitting respondent no. 1.
"The high court, therefore, should not have transferred the case to the special judge, Kangra. Needless to say that such transfers ordered merely on the say-so of a party have a demoralising effect on the trial courts.
"Unless a very strong case based on concrete material is made out, such transfers should not be ordered," the apex court said, while restoring the trial judge's order framing the charges.
However, the court said the trial shall not be influenced by any of the observations made by it in the present case.