(1) This is an appeal against the order of the Dist. Judge, Madurai, dismissing the petition of the appellants claiming a compensation of Rs. 3000 for the death of their son caused by the vehicle MDU 5390 driven by the second respondent, on the ground that the driver was acquitted of the charge under S. 304-A I.P.C. Evidently, the learned Judge has not bestowed his attention to the case law on the subject. It has been held in a number of decisions of this court that any decision of a criminal case cannot be relied on as one binding in a civil action. Equally the findings in a civil proceeding are not binding on a subsequent prosecution founded upon the same or similar allegations.
(2) In Venkatapathi v. Balappa, I L R Mad 641: AIR 1933 Mad 429 , a Bench of this Court, consisting of Curgenven and Sundaram Chetty JJ, had to consider the question whether the decision rendered in a criminal proceeding is liable to be considered in a suit for damages for malicious prosecution. There, Curgenven, J, observed:
'......... I am unable to agree that our Evidence Act justifies an examination of the judgment of the criminal court in order to ascertain the grounds upon which the acquittal proceeded and the views taken by the trying Magistrate of the evidence. Under Sec. 43 of the Evidence Act it appears to Managing Committee that the judgment can be used only to establish the fact that an acquittal has taken place as a fact in issue in the civil suit. I know of no provision of the Act which will justify the civil court in taking into consideration the grounds upon which that acquittal was based and upon this point I am in agreement with Gulabchand v. Chunilal, 9 Bom LR 1134 and Shubrati v. Shamsuddin : AIR1928All387 in the view that there is no such provision'.
This judgment has been followed by Mockett J, in In re, Chakka Jaggarao, AIR 1935 Mad 563, who made the following observations:
'In a civil action for assault which is an action in tort the fact that the defendant has been convicted or acquitted in a criminal court is relevant only as to the fact of the conviction or acquittal and it is totally irrelevant on the question whether the conviction or acquittal was right that is to say whether the assault was or was not committed. In other words, it is a record of the proceeding in a criminal court and nothing more and a civil court should embark upon an enquiry before it on the same facts without being influenced in any way whatever by the conclusion at which the criminal court has arrived; in other words, what may be a plea of autrefois acquit or 'autrefois convict' under S. 403 Crl. P.C. cannot possibly be a plea of res judicata'.
In Kutumbarao v. Venkataramayya, : AIR1951Mad344 , a suit for damages for malicious prosecution, Somasundaram J. extracted the observations of Curgenven J. in ILR Mad 641 : AIR 1933 Mad 429 , and held:-
'......... It is the duty of the civil court to consider the evidence adduced in support of the defendants' version and assess its value to find out if there is reasonable and probable cause'.
In Anil Behari v. Latika Bala Dassi, (S) : 2SCR270 , the Supreme Court considered whether the previous judgment of criminal court convicting son for murder of testator is relevant in subsequent proceeding for revocation of grant of probate. On this question the Supreme Court made the following observations at page 571:-
'On this question the courts below have assumed on the basis of the judgment of conviction and sentence passed by the High Court in the sessions trial that Charu was the murderer. Though the judgment is relevant only to show that there was such a trial resulting in the conviction and sentence of Charu to transportation for life, it is not evidence of the fact that Charu was the murderer. That question has to be decided on evidence'.
In Hollington v. Hewthorn and Co., 1943 1 K.B. 587, an action arose out of a collision between two motor cars on the highway in which the plaintiff alleged negligence on the part of the defendant driver. The plaintiff sought to give evidence of a conviction of the defendant driver of careless driving and a statement made to a police constable by the driver of the plaintiff's car after the collision. The question arose whether this evidence is admissible in a subsequent suit for damages. At pages 594 and 595 Goddard L.J. observed:
'Even were it proved that it was the accident that led to the prosecution, the conviction proves no more than what has just been stated. The court which has to try the claim for damages knows nothing of the evidence that was before the criminal court. It cannot know what arguments were addressed to it, or what influenced the court in arriving at its decision. Moreover, the issue in the criminal proceedings it not identical with that raised in the claim for damages. Assume that evidence is called to prove that the defendant did collide with the plaintiff, that has only an evidential value on the issue, whether the defendant by driving carelessly, caused damage to the plaintiff.... So, on the trial of the issue in the civil court, the opinion of the criminal court is equally irrelevant'.
(3) Relying on these decisions, I am of the view that the order passed by the learned Judge is erroneous and a mistake in law. Therefore, I set aside the order passed by the learned District Judge and direct him to take up C.P. 40 of 1962 on his file and dispose of the same on merits.
(4) Appeal allowed.