Monday, June 12, 2017

Is suicide note accusing a person enough proof to convict person of abetment of suicide? Indian Supreme Court seems to say: NO.

Note: This post is a general post which shares information that I could dig up from the Internet on how Indian law is interpreted currently for the crime of abetment of suicide. I have put it up in this spiritual blog as unfortunately suicides do happen in ashram systems too! 

One of the scary things in life as a manager, administrative head, landlord, businessman seeking payment of dues etc. is the chance that somebody who is working under one's management or is a tenant or is a customer who owes dues for services rendered/products sold, commits suicide writing a suicide note blaming a manager/administrative head/landlord/creditor etc. as the cause for the person's suicide!

How does Indian law look at this matter? Does it view a suicide note alone as enough evidence/proof to convict the named person for abetment of suicide, a crime which may result in a jail sentence of many years? Or does Indian law need supporting evidence besides the suicide note to prove that a person is guilty of abetment of suicide?

Here are a few links that throw some light on above matters.

A) Supreme Court of India, Gangula Mohan Reddy vs State Of A.P on 5 January, 2010,
Author: D Bhandari, Bench: Dalveer Bhandari, A.K. Patnaik - https://indiankanoon.org/doc/520263/
[Ravi: The above link gives the Supreme Court judgement document dated Jan 2010. I have given below some extracts from that judgement document.]
[Point 6 gives section 306 of Indian Penal Code (IPC)] "306. Abetment of suicide - If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extent to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine."
[http://lawrato.com/indian-kanoon/ipc/section-306 adds that Abetment of suicide is a Non-Bailable, Cognizable offence and triable by Court of Session, and that it is NOT compoundable. Cognizable indicates that police has authority to arrest without a warrant from a court. Non-bailable indicates that if a person is arrested on it, he/she can get bail only from a court (and not from the police). Not compoundable indicates that typically a compromise between accused and victim is NOT permitted and so the case has to go through court trial.]
...

11. `Abetment' has been defined under section 107 of the Code. We deem it appropriate to reproduce section 107, which reads as under:

"107. Abetment of a thing - A person abets the doing of a thing, who -

First - Instigates any person to do that thing; or Secondly - Engages with one or more other person or persons in any conspiracy for the doing of that thing, if an act or illegal omission takes places in pursuance of that conspiracy, and in order to the doing of that thing; or Thirdly - Intentionally aides, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of that thing."

12. Explanation 2 which has been inserted along with section 107 reads as under:

"Explanation 2 - Whoever, either prior to or at the time of the commission of an act, does anything in order to facilitate the commission of that act, and thereby facilitate the commission thereof, is said to aid the doing of that act."

[Ravi: Hmm. So the above seem to be the definitions in IPC of the terms aiding and abetting, which I have seen being used many times in news reports about criminal cases in Indian courts. Interesting and good learning for me!]

13. Learned counsel for the appellant has placed reliance on a judgment of this Court in Mahendra Singh & Another v. State of M.P. 1995 Supp. (3) SCC 731. In the case of Mahendra Singh, the allegations levelled are as under:-

"My mother-in-law and husband and sister-in-law (husband's elder brother's wife) harassed me. They beat me and abused me. My husband Mahendra wants to marry a second time. He has illicit connections with my sister-in-law. Because of these reasons and being harassed I want to die by burning."

[Ravi: Very unfortunately, the above suicide note does not surprise me at all. Wife committing suicide and blaming husband and in-laws for harassment due to which the wife said she committed suicide, is, very unfortunately, not an uncommon thing in India.]

14. The court on aforementioned allegations came to a definite conclusion that by no stretch the ingredients of abetment are attracted on the statement of the deceased. According to the appellant, the conviction of the appellant under section 306 IPC merely on the basis of aforementioned allegation of harassment of the deceased is unsustainable in law.

[Ravi: I think that nails it. I understand that to mean that Indian Supreme Court view is that only a suicide note having an allegation of harassment which the allegation states led to the person committing suicide, is NOT sufficient grounds for proving abetment of suicide.]

15. Learned counsel also placed reliance on another judgment of this court in Ramesh Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh (2001) 9 SCC 618. A three-Judge bench of this court had an occasion to deal with a case of a similar nature. In a dispute between the husband and wife, the appellant husband uttered "you are free to do whatever you wish and go wherever you like". Thereafter, the wife of the appellant Ramesh Kumar committed suicide. The Court in paragraph 20 has examined different shades of the meaning of "instigation'. Para 20 reads as under:

"20. Instigation is to goad, urge forward, provoke, incite or encourage to do "an act". To satisfy the requirement of instigation though it is not necessary that actual words must be used to that effect. or what constitutes instigation must necessarily and specifically be suggestive of the consequence. Yet a reasonable certainty to incite the consequence must be capable of being spelt out. the present one is not a case where the accused had by his acts or omission or by a continued course of conduct created such circumstances that the deceased was left with no other option except to commit suicide in which case an instigation may have been inferred. A word uttered in the fit of anger or emotion without intending the consequences to actually follow cannot be said to be instigation."
[Ravi: So the Supreme court took the view that just the words of the husband, "you are free to do whatever you wish and go wherever you like", in the context of a dispute, cannot be viewed as instigation for the wife to commit suicide.]
...

20. Abetment involves a mental process of instigating a person or intentionally aiding a person in doing of a thing. Without a positive act on the part of the accused to instigate or aid in committing suicide, conviction cannot be sustained.

21. The intention of the Legislature and the ratio of the cases decided by this court is clear that in order to convict a person under section 306 IPC there has to be a clear mens rea to commit the offence. It also requires an active act or direct act which led the deceased to commit suicide seeing no option and this act must have been intended to push the deceased into such a position that he committed suicide.

[Ravi: From https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/mens_rea, "Mens Rea refers to criminal intent. Moreover, it is the state of mind indicating culpability which is required by statute as an element of a crime. See, e.g. Staples v. United States, 511 US 600 (1994). Establishing the mens rea of an offender is usually necessary to prove guilt in criminal trial." So I understand Indian Supreme Court via points 20 & 21 above clearly stating in the year 2010 that to prove a person guilty of abetment of suicide, it has to be proved that the accused had some sort of intent to push the victim to commit suicide. A victim feeling mentally harassed by somebody and so naming that person (accused) as a cause for the victim to commit suicide, WITHOUT proof that the accused was goading the victim or pushing the victim to commit suicide, IS NOT GROUNDS for holding an accused guilty of abetment of suicide.]

B) Suicide note not proof enough for abetment charge, rules HC, http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/suicide-note-not-proof-enough-for-abetment-charge-rules-hc/story-ZSaEhaKVfSJuahkS1N4hlL.html, Jan. 11th 2016

The article mentions a case where a wife commits suicide blaming her husband (for concealment of previous marriage) in a suicide note. It quotes Justice Abhay Thipsay of the Bombay High Court as saying, "even if the court was to believe in the genuineness of the suicide note, the note alone would not be enough to hold Singh guilty under section 306" and "A study of the case laws on abetment reveals that even if a person commits suicide because of being tormented by the accused, the accused cannot be held guilty of abetment unless there is proof that he goaded or encouraged the victim to end her life".

[Ravi: That seems to be a Bombay High Court judgement in 2016!!! That re-confirms it for me. I think only a suicide note naming a person as cause for suicide without supporting evidence that the named person actually goaded or encouraged the victim to commit suicide, is NOT GROUNDS for conviction of the criminal offence of abetment of suicide.]

C) Is suicide note enough to slap Section 306?, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Is-suicide-note-enough-to-slap-Section-306/articleshow/6230680.cms, dated Jul 29th 2010

The article talks of a case where a brother-sister duo of tenants committed suicide and seem to have left behind a suicide note blaming the landlord asking them for rent as the cause of their suicide. On the basis of the note, the landlord seems to have got arrested (placed in lockup) by the police!!!

The article quotes criminal lawyer, Majid Memon as saying, "There's nothing wrong in the landlord wanting his due, although persistent and vehement demands may entail the tenant to take the extreme step. Since he could not in his wildest dreams have imagined that they would end their lives, it is difficult to slap abetment charges unless there is some other evidence to prove so."

[Ravi: This 2010 article shows that even in Mumbai somebody named in a suicide note can be arrested by the police, even if eventually the court will not hold the person guilty of abetment of suicide. So as per current Indian law, it seems to me that a person named as reason for suicide in a suicide note, can be arrested by the police and kept in custody till a court provides bail (don't know how long it may take for a court to hear the bail plea of the arrested person). That becomes an embarrassment and loss of prestige issue! Whether to arrest or not arrest this/these named person(s) in a suicide note perhaps becomes a judgement call in the hands of the police officers.
Another issue is whether workplace harassment allegation in a suicide note is viewed as grounds for charging somebody under section 306 (or the police arresting the accused person under section 306). None of the links given above deal with workplace harassment leading to suicide cases, as far as I could see. Perhaps I will look that up separately and prepare another post on it.]

[I thank Indian Supreme Court (and indiankanoon.org), cornell.edu, hindustantimes.com and indiatimes.com, and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts (very short extracts from cornell.edu, hindustantimes.com and indiatimes.com) from their websites on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

No comments:

Post a Comment