The Supreme Court said on Tuesday a court is required to be circumspect, separate the chaff from the grain and seek further corroboration from reliable testimony, direct or circumstantial, in cases where evidence is partly reliable and partly unreliable.
The apex court, which acquitted four people convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in a murder case of 2006, observed that immediate lodging of FIR provides credence to the prosecution’s case when the parties involved are at loggerheads.
A bench headed by Justice B R Gavai allowed the appeals filed by the accused challenging the November 2014 judgement of the Chhattisgarh High Court which had dismissed their appeals and confirmed the May 2008 verdict of the trial court convicting them and others in the case.
The bench, also comprising Justices Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol, said in the category of ”wholly reliable” witness, there is no difficulty for the prosecution to press for conviction on the basis of testimony of such a witness. ”In case of ‘wholly unreliable’ witness, again, there is no difficulty, inasmuch as no conviction could be made on the basis of oral testimony provided by a ‘wholly unreliable’ witness. The real difficulty comes in case of the third category of evidence which is partly reliable and partly unreliable,” the bench said. ”In such cases, the court is required to be circumspect and separate the chaff from the grain, and seek further corroboration from reliable testimony, direct or circumstantial,” it said.
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According to the prosecution, the incident had taken place in November 2006 when one of the accused, Naresh Kumar, had allegedly assaulted one Atmaram who later went to police station for lodging a complaint. The police had claimed that thereafter, Kumar, along with other accused, formed an unlawful assembly and entered the house of Atmaram where they assaulted some people as a result of which Kartikram died on the spot. The apex court noted in its verdict that an FIR was lodged, and after conclusion of the probe, a charge sheet was filed against 12 accused.
The trial court convicted all the accused and later the high court dismissed their appeals.
The apex court dealt with the appeals of Kumar and three other accused.
The bench noted in its verdict that in his statement recorded before the trial court, Kumar had specifically stated he had received grievous injuries after he was assaulted by Atmaram and thereafter, he went to the police station from where he was sent to a hospital for treatment.
”Undisputedly, in the present case, the injuries sustained by accused no. 11 Naresh Kumar cannot be considered to be minor or superficial. The witnesses are also interested witnesses, inasmuch as they are close relatives of the deceased. That there was previous enmity between the two families, on account of election of Sarpanch, has come on record,” the bench noted.
Referring to a previous judgement of the apex court, the bench noted that as observed by the court, previous enmity is a double-edged sword as, on the one hand, it can provide motive and on the other hand, the possibility of false implication cannot be ruled out.
The bench said the prosecution has attempted to ”suppress the real genesis” of the incident. It said a delay in lodging an FIR would not always be fatal to the prosecution’s case and it will depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case. The bench, which referred to another previous verdict of the apex court, said as held by the court, the FIR is a valuable piece of evidence, although it may not be substantial evidence. ”The immediate lodging of an FIR removes suspicion with regard to implication of number of persons, particularly when the case involved a fight between two groups. When the parties are at loggerheads, the immediate lodging of the FIR provides credence to the prosecution case,” it said.
”In our view, the conviction of these accused purely on the basis of oral testimony of the interested witnesses, without sufficient corroboration, would not be sustainable,” it said, while directing that the appellants be set at liberty, if not required in any other case.