Supreme Court: Giving benefit of doubt to the accused convicted under Section 302 IPC r/w Section 34 IPC, the 3-judge bench of SK Kaul, Anirudhha Bose and Krishna Muraji, JJ reiterated that Court can and may act on the testimony of single eye-witness provided he is wholly reliable.
“… the prosecution has miserably failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond doubt the appellants therefore must be given benefit of doubt.”
The Court was heading the matter where the appellants were convicted for killing the deceased by giving him hockey and knife blows. The Trial Court came to the conclusion that the prosecution had brought home the guilt of the accused persons and accordingly sentenced them to Life Imprisonment.
Before the Supreme Court, it was argued by the defence that
- The knife which was recovered had a blunt tip, as such, the injuries as mentioned in the post mortem report were not possible to be caused by the said knife. Even, this knife was not shown to the doctor to seek his opinion whether injuries were possible by the said blunt knife or not.
- Recovery of hockey at the instance of the appellant was not even believed by the Trial Court.
- the conviction and sentence of the appellants based upon the sole testimony of one eye witness, whose conduct was unnatural and inconsistent with the ordinary course of human nature making his presence at the site of incident extremely doubtful, is highly unsafe without corroboration from other piece of evidence.
- The other two eye witnesses have turned hostile and nothing could be elicited from their cross-examination by the prosecution.
- Two Courts have recorded concurrent finding of guilt of the accused appellants based on the testimony of an eye witness which they found to be reliable and there exists no legal impediment for conviction on the basis of the same.
- Evidence of a hostile witness is not to be discarded as a whole and relevant parts thereof which are admissible in law can be relied upon by the prosecution.
- The conviction cannot be assailed merely because of some lacuna in investigation and any failure or omission of the investigating officer cannot render the prosecution case doubtful or unworthy of belief, in a case where the prosecution case is fully established by direct testimony of eye witness duly corroborated by medical evidence.
Considering the submissions and material on record, the Court noticed,
“There is no legal impediment in convicting a person on the sole testimony of a single witness. That is the logic of Section 134 of the Evidence Act, 1872. But if there are doubts about the testimony, Courts will insist on corroboration. It is not the number, the quantity but quality that is material. The time honoured principle is that evidence has to be weighed and not counted. On this principle stands the edifice of 8 Section 134 of the Evidence Act. The test is whether the evidence has a ring of truth, is cogent, credible and trustworthy or otherwise.”
The Court said that in the facts and circumstances of the case this was serious lapse on the part of the investigating officer. Though normally minor lapses on the part of the investigating officer should not come in the way of accepting eye witness account, if otherwise reliable. But in the circumstances of the case at hands where the conduct of sole eye witness is unnatural and there are various other surrounding circumstances which make his presence at the site of incident doubtful, such a lapse on the part of the investigating officer assumed significance and is not liable to ignored.
It was, hence, held,
“… ordinarily this Court could be reluctant to disturb the concurrent view but since there are inherent improbabilities in the prosecution story and the conduct of eye witness is inconsistent with ordinary course of human nature we do not think it would be safe to convict the appellants upon the incorroborated testimony of the sole eye witness.”
[Amar Singh v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2020 SCC OnLine SC 826, decided on 12.10.2020]