A general conspiracy which gives birth to a cascade of distinct offenses committed in various places spread over several years and involving different accused persons cannot be boxed into one trial. This would lead to injustice, the Supreme Court held on Monday.
This was the crux of the judgment delivered by a Supreme Court Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy as they held two former Bihar chief ministers and a State chief secretary culpable to stand trial separately for each and every alleged crime they have been charged with in connection with the multi-crore fodder scam.
The accused persons were discharged by the Jharkhand High Court, which held that since they have been convicted in one of the cases linked to the fodder scam, they need not stand trial for the others. All the cases had their genesis in the same “general conspiracy” and a person cannot stand trial again for the same offense for which he has already been convicted. This, the High Court had said, would attract ‘double jeopardy.’
But Justice Mishra, who wrote the judgment, said, “There may be larger conspiracy and smaller conspiracy which may develop in successive stages involving different accused persons. In the instant case, defalcations have been made in various years by combination of different accused persons.”
It reasoned that though “the conspiracy was a general conspiracy to keep on issuing license in the names of fictitious firms and to share the benefits arising out of those licenses when no real independent person was the licensee, it is apparent that the case is quite distinguishable. In the instant case different accused persons exist with the help of whom amount has been withdrawn in different years. It is not a case that only a few persons had benefited each and every year.”
The court quoted the oft-repeated precedent that a joint trial is an exception and the norm is separate trials for distinct offenses.
“There may be a situation where in furtherance of general conspiracy, offenses take place in various parts of India and several persons are killed at different times. Each trial has to be separately held and the accused to be punished separately for the offense committed in furtherance of conspiracy. In case there is only one trial for such conspiracy for separate offenses, it would enable the accused person to go scot-free,” the SC held.