In a significant ruling, Madras High Court has said that criminal appeals cannot be dismissed just because appellant’s counsel did not turn up for hearing and should be decided only on merit, underscoring that Supreme Court guidelines on such matters must be followed.
“When the counsel for the appellant was not present, the court cannot dispose of the appeal,” Justice P Devadass said in his ruling on a Criminal Revision Petition (CRP) filed by D L Saleem Ahmed.
Ahmed had been convicted by a Fast Track Court for dishonouring a cheque. Challenging this, he filed an appeal.
The Additional District and Sessions Judge, Chennai, dismissed the appeal as “ex-parte” as the lawyer for Saleem was not present. A petition was filed against this judgement in the High Court.
On circumstances like a counsel not present during a hearing on criminal appeal, the HC said “the (appellate) Court can adjourn the appeal to enable the counsel to appear or without adjourning the criminal appeal, the Court can dispose it of” on merit.
The appeal can be disposed of after fully referring to the evidence on record, and “either it (court) can allow the appeal or dismiss it. But, it must dispose of the appeal on merit.”
“The Honourable Supreme Court (has) laid down the guidelines as to the disposal of the criminal appeal, when the counsel for the appellant was not present,” the High Court said. Such guidelines must be followed, it said.
Outlining the distinguishing features of Criminal and Civil laws, the court said, “It is clear that the Appellate Court has disposed of the (criminal) appeal like a Civil Court. It is an ex-parte disposal.” Such a disposal is unknown to criminal laws,” the court said.
Allowing the appeal filed by Ahmed, the High Court set aside the order of the Additional Sessions Judge. It directed the lower court to dispose of the appeal according to law and in conformity with apex court guidelines.