Supreme Court: In a case wherein the appellants had preferred an appeal to this Court under Article 134(1)(a) of the Constitution against the decision of High Court of Judicature for the State of Punjab at Simla, whereby the acquittal of the appellants was set aside, and they were convicted of the offence under Section 302 read with Section 34 of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC’) and were thus sentenced to death for the charges under Sections 302, 325 and 324 read with Section 34 of the IPC, the 4-Judges Bench of Patanjali Sastri, C.J., Fazl Ali*, B.K. Mukherjea and S.R. Das, JJ., observed that the points on which the Sessions Judge based his conclusion had fully met the High Court’s decision. Thus, the Supreme Court opined that the appellants had been rightly convicted. The Supreme Court further opined that in the absence of detailed evidence as to the part played by Appellant 2, the ends of justice would be served by commuting the sentence of death imposed on him to one of transportation for life.
One Sewa Singh in the Ferozepore district had five sons and a granddaughter, Kartar Kaur who was married to Appellant 1. In 1948, Kartar Kaur was abducted by Kirpal Singh, who was employed in Provincial Armed Police at Amritsar. Thus, proceedings under Section 107 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898 were started against Kirpal Singh and Kartar Kaur on the one side and Appellant 1 on the other, and both the parties were bound to keep the peace. In 1949, the appellants along with Teka Singh came shortly after sunset to Sewa Singh’s house, armed with deadly weapons, and began to assault Sewa Singh and several other members of his family, with the result that Sewa Singh’s wife and his one son were killed, and Sewa Singh himself, and his four other sons, received a number of injuries, some of which were of grievous nature. After this incident, one of the daughters-in-law of Sewa Singh went to the police station and lodged the FIR, which was recorded at 12:30 am. On receiving the report, an Assistant Sub-Inspector reached the spot and as a result of the investigation, the appellants and Teka Singh were committed to the Court of Session for trial.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The Supreme Court noted that the Additional Sessions Judge (‘Sessions Judge’) concluded that, firstly, the murder could not have taken place before 1 a.m. on 01-06-1949, and secondly, the first information report was not recorded at the police station half an hour after midnight as the recorded report showed, but at the place of occurrence several hours after the time stated in the report. The Supreme Court also noted that the Sessions Judge finally concluded that the occurrence must have taken place “when it was sufficiently dark, and the assailants could not be identified” and the accused had been implicated “on mere suspicion after a good deal of delay and deliberation”. Thereafter, the High Court reversed the decision of the Sessions Judge and opined that the Sessions Judge had not seriously applied his mind to the facts of the case and had altogether failed to give due weight to the strong points of the prosecution case and had exaggerated or invented weaknesses in it.
The Supreme Court, after examining the evidence and after giving due weight to the points which impressed the Sessions Judge, held that it agreed with the view of the High Court that the guilt of the appellants had been clearly established. The Supreme Court opined that there could be no doubt that there was a dastardly attack on several members of Sewa Singh’s family, and they were attacked just near his house and the five persons who alleged to have witnessed the assault must have been present at the time when it took place, since four of them had been injured and the fifth, i.e., the daughter-in-law of Sew Singh lived with him.
The Supreme Court further opined that whatever might have been the actual time when the occurrence took place, these persons must have been present at the spot in close proximity with the assailants, and so it was difficult to hold that they could not have seen and identified them. The Supreme Court opined that the High Court had rightly pointed out that there had been no attempt to bolster the case with fabricated evidence or to magnify the number of persons who took part in the crime.
The Supreme Court observed that the points on which the Sessions Judge based his conclusion had fully met the High Court’s decision, and thus, the Supreme Court opined that the appellants had been rightly convicted. The Supreme Court held that ordinarily, this Court should attach very great weight to the estimate of the Trial Judge in regard to the credibility of the witnesses who deposed before him, but it appeared to us that in this case the evidence of the prosecution witnesses had been rejected by the Sessions Judge not on the ground that he was not impressed by their demeanour or by the manner in which they gave their evidence, but on certain extraneous grounds, some of which were more or less of a speculative nature.
The Supreme Court held that Appellant 2 was about 18 years of age, and both the courts below had held that he had no obvious motive for participating in the occurrence and the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the circumstances of the case was that this young man must have acted under the influence of Appellant 1. The Supreme Court opined that in the absence of detailed evidence as to the part played by him, the ends of justice would be served by commuting the sentence of death imposed on him to one of transportation for life.
Thus, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.
[Inder Singh v. State of Punjab, (1952) 1 SCC 404, decided on 31-03-1952]
Note: Credibility of injured witnesses
Witnesses play a pivotal role in the delivery of justice from the point a criminal trial begins, and a credible witness is competent to give evidence and is considered worthy of belief. Recently, in Balu Sudam Khalde v. State of Maharashtra, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 355, the Supreme Court has held that the following principles are to be kept in mind when the evidence of an injured eyewitness is to be appreciated:
The presence of an injured eyewitness at the time and place of the occurrence cannot be doubted unless there are material contradictions in his deposition;
Unless, it is otherwise established by the evidence, it must be believed that an injured witness would not allow the real culprits to escape and falsely implicate the accused;
The evidence of injured witness has greater evidentiary value and unless compelling reasons exist, their statements are not to be discarded lightly;
The evidence of injured witness cannot be doubted on account of some embellishment in natural conduct or minor contradictions;
If there be any exaggeration or immaterial embellishments in the evidence of an injured witness, then such contradiction, exaggeration or embellishment should be discarded from the evidence of injured, but not the whole evidence;
The broad substratum of the prosecution version must be taken into consideration and discrepancies which normally creep due to loss of memory with passage of time should be discarded.
Thus, it is important that the court maintains a positive judicial attitude towards victim justice, and while considering the credibility of a particular evidence or testimonial, the courts should exercise due care and caution and must only look for truth. Any kind of bias or presumptions must be avoided, and the courts should go into the depth of such matters.
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For the Appellants: Bawa Shiv Charan Singh, Advocate (Appointed by the Court)
For the Respondent: Gopal Singh, Advocate
*Judgment authored by: Justice Fazl Ali