Disproportionate properties amassed by a government official cannot be attached from the hands of his family members if the officer dies during pendency of trial against him, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled.

Terming the orders of trial court and Andhra Pradesh High Court allowing attachment of assets of a government official even after his death as a “gross mis-carriage of justice”, a bench of Justices SA Bobde and Amitava Roy said that no proceedings could be allowed against a dead man and courts erred in directing attachment of properties of a dead man.
The bench also slammed the trial court for convicting accused Ramachandraiah for misappropriating Rs 6,57,355 two years after his death. The order of attachment was passed on the basis of conviction order and the High Court also approved the attachment proceedings.
“There is no legal provision which enables continuance of prosecution upon death of the accused. We must record that the proceedings and the decisions of the courts below are disturbing, to say the least. In the first place, though the accused had died, the trial court proceeded with the trial and recorded a conviction two years after his death,”the bench said.
“Then, this null and void conviction was used as a basis for making an attachment of his properties before the Sessions Court. Astonishingly, all applications succeeded, the attachment was made absolute and over and above all, the High Court upheld the attachment,” it said.
The court passed the order on a petition filed by family members of the deceased official contending that lower court and HC erred in directing attachment of their properties. They said that the conviction, on the basis of which attachment order was passed, was itself illegal as the court could not convict a dead person.
The state government, however, justified proceedings of attachment and told the bench that Criminal Procedure Code did not bar government agencies from attaching properties of an accused in case of abatement of proceedings due to death of an accused.
The apex court, however, was not satisfied with its contention and said “If the law requires that the orders of attachment should be withdrawn upon acquittal it stands to reason that such orders must be withdrawn when the prosecution abates or cannot result in a conviction due to the death of the accused, whose property is attached”.
“Concept of abatement of a trial could be subsumed in the clause where the final judgement and order of the Criminal Court is one of acquittal. In this context, the presumption of innocence of an accused till he is convicted must be borne in mind and there is no reason to consider this presumption to have vaporized upon the death of an accused. It may be noted that this Court has time and again reiterated the presumption of innocence of an accused till he is convicted,” it said.
The bench said presumption of innocence does not vaporize upon the death of an accused and a criminal trial is not like a fairy tale wherein one is free to give flight to one’s imagination and fantasy.

News courtesy: Times of India
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