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Courts can try criminal cases against armed forces: HC

July 15, 2009 16:01 IST
The Madras High Court Bench in Madurai has held that the armed forces personnel accused of committing murder, rape and other such crimes could be tried in a criminal court and not necessarily through court martial.

The court's observation came while dismissing a revision petition filed by a Lance Havildar accused of killing his wife while on leave, challenging the order of a Magistrate who refused to transfer the case to an army court.

Justice A Selvam in his order on Tuesday said both the criminal court as well as the army courts enjoyed concurrent jurisdiction to try criminal offences.

The petitioner was accused of killing his wife on Aug 25 last year during his visit to Usilampatti near Madurai on leave.

The judge said that as per Section 70 of the Army Act, a person accused of murder, culpable homicide or rape should not be tried through court martial unless the offence had been committed while he was in active service or at any place outside the country or at a frontier post.

The petitioner had claimed that he should be tried only through a court martial because casual leave comes within the purview of "active service" as held by the Supreme Court in 1995.

Justice Selvam agreed that a soldier on casual leave could be considered to be in active service. However, he said that neither army act nor the code of criminal procedure prevented a criminal court from conducting trial against servicemen.

Justice Selvam said Sec 475 Code of Criminal Procedure states that if a person was charged with an offence for which he was liable to be tried either by a criminal court or a court martial, the Magistrate should in "proper cases" hand him over to the commanding officer concerned.

"From a close reading of the Section, one can easily discern that if a person working in Army, Navy or Air Force commits any offence, he can be tried either by a court to which code of criminal procedure applies or though a court martial", he said.

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