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CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE UNCORROBORATED TESTIMONY OF ACCOMPLICE

Author: Saurabh Chatterji, V year of B.B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) with Specialization in Corporate Laws from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, School of Law.



Introduction

It’s a widespread law which has remained unhindered over the years that any Court is bound to act on the testimony of any particular witness in the ambit of the case. It should also be duly noted that even if the statements of the witness are uncorroborated in his/her testimony it is bound to be acted upon.


Unsafe to Convict an Accused Solely On The Basis Of Uncorroborated Testimony Of Accomplice – Supreme Court

The three-judge Supreme Court bench in the murder case of former Member of Legislative Assembly – Mr. MK Balan, which comprised of the Judges – Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, Justice V. Ramasubramanium and Justice KM Joseph had stated that the material particulars of the testimony which is imparted by the accomplice are pertinent to be corroborated. There were three specific case laws which should be taken into account while looking at this particular matter regarding the testimony of an accomplice.

  • Sarwan Singh Rattan Singh v. State of Punjab

  • Haroon Haji Abdulla v. State of Maharashtra

  • SheshannaBhumanna Yadav v. State of Maharashtra

It is highly required that there is some sort of additional evidence in order to be safe to be acted upon. It should also not be of such a nature that it extends the necessary conditions to identify the accused with the offence. The contradictory nature of the two provisions of the law in the evidence act had also been discussed by the Supreme Court following this murder case of Mk Balan.


Legal provisions regarding testimony

First, we need to establish who is referred to as a witness. In a literal sense, a witness is any particular person who has seen any incident take place. Now that incident or that event could possibly be anything, it could be a crime committed by a person or any accident which happened to have taken place at that time. Any particular witness who is brought forward in the court of law should be a person who is able to answer the questions which are put forward to him during the course of examination or cross-examination of the witness.


According to the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, under Sections – 118,121 and 133 the matter of capacity of witness is talked about. It goes without saying that rational answers are not expected from any witness of a tender age, a very old person or any person with some sort of mental illness. In certain cases, if the court is satisfied, even a child aged 6-7 can give testimony in the court of law.


A special provision has been made under Section 119 of the Evidence Act which states that a witness can even testify in the manner of providing sign language if he cannot communicate verbally. The person belonging to certain religious sects who have taken a vow of silence could fall under this category.


As a general rule of thumb, Section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 is followed in the matter of regarding who may testify in court. As of now, the present judicial system of India has taken the law regarding testimony completely for granted. Irrespective of the fact that any particular witness does not have money or in some cases wherein the person who is required to provide testimony in the court is unable to leave his family, business etc., the witness would be summoned to court. If for some reason a further date is granted by the court, then, in that case, all the troubles faced by the witness would go in vain. This is one of the biggest loopholes regarding the law of testimony.


Landmark judgements

Now let us take the help of certain landmark judgments in the sphere of The Indian Evidence Act and the Criminal Procedure Code which might help us to have a better insight into this matter.


The one particular case which is most revered is the one of K. Hashim v. State of Tamil Nadu. In this particular case law, the court had held that although the courts are bound to enact upon the testimony of any particular accomplice and that too without independent confirmation of each material the testimony should be such that it is sufficient to sustain the conviction of the person in question.


In another case law named Swaran Singh v. State of Punjab, the court had held that each and every time whereupon the Court provides a further date for any particular matter the witness is expected to bear his own cost in order to commute from his respective place of residence to the Court. It is a predicament that till date no amendments have been made to this existing rule as nowadays it has become pretty normal for any court to adjourn a case and provide the future date of hearing.


In the case of Sheshanna Bhumanna Yadav vs State of Maharashtra, the court had held that it is dangerous to convict a person on the basis of a mere testimony of an accomplice which is not even corroborated. The corroboration to support the specific testimony of an accomplice should be of the nature of confirmatory evidence. A relation between the accused and the crime should be established.


In the matter of Shamsuddin v. State of Kerala, it was stated that it is not necessary for the corroboration to be direct evidence. It is pertinent to note the fact that the corroborating evidence should hail from independent sources and not necessarily should be direct in nature but should be circumstantial.


Critical Analysis

Now let us draw a linkage between the statutory provisions regarding the testimony of an accomplice and its execution in certain judgements in India. Historical developments regarding this law have been minimal. It could be stated that these are problems which are ingrained in the Indian Legal System post-Independence.


If we look at all these drawbacks regarding this particular aspect of the law, it is clear that to any prudent person the evidence provided by an accomplice might prove to be untrustworthy.


It is also a well-settled principle that the competency of an accomplice is not diminished, it should also be taken into account that it is possible that he could have taken part in the crime and instead of being tried in the court of law, he/she has been named as a witness for the prosecution.


If we look at all these drawbacks regarding this particular aspect of the law, it is clear that to any prudent person the evidence provided by an accomplice might prove to be untrustworthy.


It goes without saying that this particular practise which is followed by the courts from time immemorial is against the very provision of law and could be regarded as untenable.


Conclusion

It may seem that the only reason for which this practice of admitting the evidence of an accomplice is still in force because it is regarded as a useful tool in the Evidence Act for the purpose of detection of crime and ultimately the delivery of justice. This guiding principle which has been in force in the Indian Legal system through all these years is often faced with difficulties with respect to its implementation.


Author's Biography

Saurabh Chatterji is a final year Law student pursuing BBA LLB (Hons.) with specialization in Corporate Laws from the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun.Throughout the course of five years, Saurabh had worked as a Law Intern in various stellar organisations across India. He has also published various research papers, articles and blogs for several law journals focusing on contemporary issues in the legal domain. He believes that achieving proper industry knowledge along with excellent theoretical knowledge of certain important legislation should be regarded as the foremost objective of any particular law student in the country. With the help of in-depth analysis of case laws, judicial pronouncements and identifying the stringent laws the author sheds light on the grey areas of the Indian Legal system.