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Witness Credibility; 6 Important Supreme Court Decisions

The credibility of a witness cannot be judged merely on the basis of his close relation with the deceased and as such cannot be a ground to discard his testimony, if it otherwise inspires confidence and, particularly so, when it is corroborated by the evidence of independent and injured witnesses.

While appreciating the evidence of the witnesses related to the deceased, having strained relations with the accused party, their evidence cannot be discarded solely on that basis, but the court is required to carefully scrutinize it and find out if there is scope for taking view whereby the court can reach to the conclusion that it is a case of false implication.

1. Masalti v. The State of Uttar Praadesh, AIR 1965 SC 202

Speaking for a 5-Judge Bench P.B.Gajendragadkar, C.J. Said : “…There is no doubt that when a criminal Court has to appreciate evidence given by witnesses who are partisan or interest, it has to be very careful in weighing such evidence. Whether or not there are discrepancies in the evidence; whether or not evidence strikes the Court as genuine; whether or not the story disclosed by the evidence is probable, are the matters which must be taken into account. But it would, we think be unreasonable to contend that evidence given by witnesses should be discarded only on the ground that it is evidence of partisan or interest witnesses.

Often enough, where factions prevail in villages and murders are committed as a result of enmity between such factions, criminal Courts have to deal with evidence of a partisan type. The mechanical rejection of such evidence on the sole ground that it is a partisan would invariably lead to failure of justice. No hard and fast rule can be laid down as to how much evidence should be appreciated. Judicial approach has to be cautious in dealing with such evidence; but the plea that such evidence should be rejected because it is partisan cannot be accepted as correct.”

2. Nallabothu Venkaiash v. State of A.P., (2002) 7 SCC 117

The test, in such circumstances , as correctly adopted by the trial court, is that if the witnesses are interested, the same must be scrutinized with due care and caution in the light of the medical evidence and other surrounding circumstances. Animosity is double-edged sword and it can cut both sides. It can also be a ground for assault….”

3. Ramanand Yadav v. Prabhunath Jha, (2003) 12 SCC 606

But at the same time if the relatives or interested witnesses are examined, the court has a duty to analyse the evidence, with deeper scrutiny and then come to a conclusion as to whether it has a ring of truth or there is reason for holding that the evidence is biased. Whenever a plea is taken that the witness is partisan or had any hostility towards the accused, foundation for the same has to be laid.

4. State of Himachal Pradesh v. Mast Ram, AIR 2004 SC 5056

The law on the point is well settled that the testimony of the relative witnesses cannot be disbelieved on the ground of relationship. The only main requirement is to examine their testimony with caution. Their testimony was thrown out at the threshold on the ground of animosity and relationship. This is not the requirement of Law.

5. Bhagwan Jagannath Markad v. State of Maharashtra, (2016) 10 SCC 537

While appreciating the evidence of a witness the court has to assess whether read as a whole , it is truthful. In doing so, the court has to keep in mind , the deficiencies, drawbacks and infirmities, to find out whether such discrepancies shake the truthfulness. Some discrepancies not touching the core of the case are not enough to reject the evidence as a whole. No true witness can escape from giving some discrepant details. Only when discrepancies are so incompatible as to affect the credibility of the version of a witness, the court may reject the evidence.

In the said case the Apex Court has further held that a witness being a close relative is not enough to reject his testimony if it is otherwise credible. A relation may not conceal the actual culprit. The evidence may be closely scrutinized to asses whether an innocent person is falsely implicated. Mechanical rejection of evidence even of a “partisan” or “interested” witness may lead to failure of justice.

It is well known that principle “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” has no general acceptability. On the same evidence, some accused persons may be acquitted while others may be convicted, depending upon the nature of the offence. The court can differentiate the accused who is acquitted from those who are convicted. A witness may be untruthful in some aspects but the other part of the evidence may be worthy of acceptance. Discrepancies may arise due to error of observations, loss of memory due to lapse of time, mental disposition such as shock at the time of occurrence and as such the normal discrepancy does not affect the credibility of a witness.

6. Brahm Swaroop v. State of Uttar Praadesh, (2011) 2 SCC (Cri) 923

Merely because witnesses are closely related to deceased victims, their testimonies cannot be discarded. Their relationship with one of the parties is not a factor that affects credibility of a witness. More so, a relation would not conceal actual culprit and make allegations against innocent person. The party has to lay factual foundation and prove false implication by leading impeccable evidence in respect of his false implication. Further, in such cases the court has to adopt a careful approach and analyse evidence, to find out whether it is cogent and credible evidence.

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