Shakuntala Shukla v State of Uttar Pradesh and Anr.

Shakuntala Shukla v State of Uttar Pradesh and Anr

2021 SCC OnLine 672

Date of Judgment: 07th September 2021

Judges: Justice Dr. Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud & Justice M.R. Shah

This case is one of the important case in which apex court reaffirmed that ‘presumption of innocence will end once the accused is convicted by trial court’ and high court should be very slow in granting bail in such cases especially in case of serious offences. In this present case court also elucidate the meaning, importance, how to write judgment.


Kripa Shankar Shukla was the husband of the appellant and on 28.10.1995 at around 10.00 am his body was found in the well. The police did not investigate the matter properly and on 13.12.1995, the appellant herein – Shakuntala Shukla (wife of the deceased) moved application to President of India. On the basis of application, Special Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Uttar Pradesh directed the matter for investigation to CB-CID. In this investigation, the names of accused-private respondent came in the light. The trial court framed the charges under section; 302 (punishment of murder) /149 (offence committed in prosecution of common objective), 201 (Causing disappearance of evidence, or giving false information), 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of IPC. Police Investigating Officer, Jainath Yadav who was investigating the matter earlier noted wrong facts of being Kripa Shankar Shukla under the influence of alcohol and falling in the well resulted his death by drowning despite no symptoms of death by drowning was found. While preparing the enquiry report, Investigating Officer Jainath Yadav  neither enquired from the brother, wife and son of the deceased nor recorded their statements.  He did not appreciate the evidences, more particularly the evidence that the deceased at about 8 O’clock in the night on 26.10.1995 was along with the accused persons and thereafter Kripa Shankar Shukla was not seen by anybody and ultimately the dead body was found in the well at about 10:40 a.m. on 28.10.1995.  Even Dr. Vinod Kumar Rai of District Hospital, Ballia mentioned wrong cause of death in the post mortem report. They both deliberately perform their duties in such unlawful manner in order to save the accused persons. The prosecution witnesses-villagers were also threatened by the accused persons to debarred them from giving any evidence against them and FIR was also lodged against the accused under section 504 (Intentional insult to provoke breach of peace) and section 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation). Prosecution, during the investigation, established and proved the motive. After examining the evidences and specially post mortem report, it was found that lungs of the deceased were found congested, however, no water was found in the lungs. The trial court convicted the private respondents-accused persons namely Vikrama Yadav, Swaminath Yadav, Jhingur Bhar, Surendra Kumar Pandey and Umesh Kumar Pandey for the offences under Sections 302/149, 201 r/w 120B IPC. The accused persons except Umesh Kumar Pandey appealed in the High Court against the judgment of Trial Court. Accused Swaminath Yadav preferred Criminal Miscellaneous Bail Application praying for releasing him on bail during the pendency of the criminal appeal which was allowed by the High Court. Other three accused persons also appealed and released on bail on parity.


The only issue arises before the apex court was

  • Whether High Court was correct in releasing the accused on bail under section 389 of CrP.C. considering the circumstances of the case?


Appellant: The appellant counsel submitted that the High Court had committed grave error in releasing the accused. High Court did not properly appreciated and considered the fact that the Trial Court after carefully examining the evidences gave detailed judgment of conviction under Sections 302/149, 201 r/w 120B IPC and sentenced them to undergo life imprisonment. The counsel further submitted that the accused were convicted under serious offence of murder (Section 302). The High Court had failed to note the fact that the accused from the very beginning are trying to derail the investigation. The prosecution-witnesses were also threatened by the accused persons when they were on bail also FIR was lodged against the accused persons during the trial for the same. The High Court had not at all even referred to the counter affidavit filed on behalf of the State opposing bail pending appeals. Therefore the High Court had not at all considered the seriousness of the offence and the gravity of the accusation against the accused and their antecedents and conduct of giving threats to the witnesses during trial and even thereafter. Also, there was no reason assigned by High Court for releasing the accused persons on bail.

Respondent01-State: The learned counsel of state supported the contention of the appellant. The counsel submitted that High Court had failed to consider the motive, antecedents, conduct of the accused and the effort to haste the fair investigation. The High Court did not ascribe any specific reason for releasing the accused persons on bail. It was submitted that from the order it was difficult to identify, the submissions on behalf of the accused and even the findings recorded while releasing the accused on bail. It was submitted that even the submissions on behalf of the State have not been summarised and/or discussed at all. The High Court had taken the cases against the accused for threatening the witnesses and family members of deceased very lightly.

Respondent02-Accused: The counsel of respondent 02 submitted that the High Court has not committed any error in releasing the accused on bail. The counsel further submitted that the case was of only circumstantial evidence. The only medical evidence, postmortem report showed the cause of death as ‘died by drowning’. The accused were on bail after the trial and nothing on record showed that they had misused the liberty.


The Supreme Court quashed and set aside the order of High Court of releasing the accused-private respondent namely, Swaminath Yadav, Surendra Kumar Pandey, Jhingur Bhar and Vikrama Yadav. The apex court directed the accused to surrender forthwith to serve out the sentence imposed by the learned trial Court, failing which the trial Court is directed to issue warrants of arrest against them and take them into custody forthwith.


The Supreme Court observed that High Court has not appreciated and considered that the trial Court after examining the evidences on record has convicted the accused and once a person is convicted there shall not be presumption of his innocence. The High Court should be slow to grant the bail under section 389 in the present case where the accused were convict of serious offences. The fact that from the beginning of case it was tried to derail the case by conducting improper enquiry and incorrect postmortem report was also failed to be considered by the High Court. The High Court had also not considered the seriousness of the offence and the gravity of the accusation against the accused and their antecedents and conduct by giving threats to the witnesses during trial and even thereafter. Giving threats to the complainant side and the other witnesses and the offences under Sections 504 & 506 IPC can be said to be a very serious offence which was taken very casually by High Court. The period of imprisonment of eight months was not of such magnitude in respect of current nature of offence that there was need to thrust the bail.

Observations on the term ‘Judgment’

The Supreme Court was at pains to note that the order of High Court lacks total clarity. The apex court made certain observation on the importance, purpose and contents of judgment. The court held judgment as decision or sentence given by court in a legal proceedings and the reason for decision. Reasoning is also an essential for a judgment. ‘Judgment’ is often used as judicial opinion, decision and order. Justice Roslyn Atkinson, Supreme Court of Queensland, had voiced the four purposes of a written judgment: i) to spell out judges own thoughts; ii) to explain your decision to the parties; iii) to communicate the reasons for the decision to the public; and iv) to provide reasons for an appeal court to consider. What court says and the manner to say is as important as what the court decides. A decision should provide logical reasoning and it should be comprehensible easily. Every judgment contains four basic elements and they are (i) statement of material (relevant) facts, (ii) legal issues or questions, (iii) deliberation to reach at decision and (iv)the ratio or conclusive decision. A judgment should be in such manner that a person can track down the fact to a logical conclusion on the basis of legal principles. A judgment should have relevant, facts and principles. These principles should be applied on the facts. The important elements of a judgment are: i) Caption ii) Case number and citation iii) Facts iv) Issues v) Summary of arguments by both the parties vi) Application of law vii) Final conclusive verdict. Clarity and precision should be the goal of writing judgment. Judgment writing is an art and whenever a judgment is written, it should have clarity on facts; on submissions made on behalf of the rival parties; discussion on law points and thereafter reasoning and thereafter the ultimate conclusion and the findings and thereafter the operative portion of the order. There must be a clarity on the final relief granted.


‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is followed in the judicial system of India where executorial framework is predominant. But the current case decides the presumption of innocence by superior court once the person is convicted by subordinate court. The Supreme Court in this case reaffirmed the position and observed presumption of innocence will end if the person is convicted. The court also took note that in bail during pendency of appeal against the conviction of serious offence, the superior court should be slow in granting the bail. As decided earlier by the Supreme Court in Ash Mohammad v Shiv Raj Singh, there should be proper analysis of the criminal antecedents and the total circumstances of the case and then question should be discussed before court that whether the accused deserve to released on bail. In Bhagwant Rama Shinde Gosai v State of Gujarat, the apex court held that approach different from liberal should be taken by courts when the sentence is of life imprisonment. It is well settled that in considering the prayer of bail in grave offence like murder the court should only release the convicted person under section 389 only in exceptional cases. In case of Sidhartha Vashisht @ Manu Sharma V State (NCT of Delhi) the court held that the mere fact that during the period of trial the accused was on bail and there was no misuse of liberty does not per se warrant the suspension of sentence and grant of bail. In the present case the accused persons were convicted of offence of murder. Also it was clearly evident from the circumstance that it was tried even by the investigation officer and doctor to save the accused. The conduct of accused of threatening the witnesses is also grave. Also, the order of High Court was also unclear on many aspects. It was difficult to find reasoning (if any given), submissions made by parties etc. Reasoning is the life and blood of a judgment. A judgment without reason to such order is an error and can be set aside. There had been many cases which were overruled due to lack of clarity. Therefore the present case reaffirmed the position of granting the bail under section 389 CrP.C. in case of grave offences in only exceptional case after analyzing the circumstances, facts gravity of allegations etc. of a case.


Bail to a convict under section 389 CrP.C. should be only granted on the basis of strong compelling reasons and such reasons must be recorded in the order clearly. Although it is the right of an accused to approach court for bail but the court should grant only after considering various factors such as gravity of offence, nature of allegation, criminal history, conduct of accused on previous bails etc. Although it is not preferable to give a stringent guidelines but generally these factors are examined by courts in granting bail. Also reason behind releasing the accused on bail becomes an important part of judgment. Any judgment that lacks reasoning becomes cryptic and liable to be set aside. The object of judgment is not merely to decide but also to convey in proper and comprehensive manner.

Author: Sarthak Chauhan,
Amity Law School (4th Year)

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