Section 106 of the Evidence Act cannot be invoked to make up for the inability of the prosecution to produce evidence of circumstances pointing to the guilt of the accused: SC

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While hearing the Balvir Singh vs. State of Uttarakhand case, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 106 of the Evidence Act doesn't automatically place a burden on the accused, but rather becomes relevant when the accused doesn't offer any explanation concerning facts that they should be aware of and facts that could support arguments consistent with their innocence. A two-judge bench consisting of Justice Prashant Mishra and Justice J.B. Pardiwala was hearing an appeal against the Uttarakhand High Court judgment which affirmed the conviction of the appellant (mother) under Section 498A IPC and appellant (husband) under Sections 302 and 498A IPC. While hearing the matter, the bench cited the principle that “when an accused fails to offer any explanation for circumstances appearing in the evidence against them, it can be considered as an additional link in the chain of evidence.” Moreover, the Court referred to Section 106 of the Evidence Act, which shifts the burden to the accused to explain facts within their knowledge when the prosecution has made a prima facie case. 

The case was related to murder and domestic cruelty of a wife. The deceased, namely, Sudha was married to Balvir Singh. The marriage of the deceased with Balvir Singh was solemnized on December 12, 1997. The father of the deceased, namely, Virendra Singh preferred an application in the court of the Judicial Magistrate First Class, Kotdwar, Garhwal under Section 156(3) Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, seeking a direction to the Police to register an FIR in connection with the death of his daughter in suspicious circumstances on June 02, 2007. As per the order passed by the learned Judicial Magistrate, an FIR was registered at the Kotdwar Police Station on June 09, 2007, under Section 302, 498A read with Section 34 of the IPC and Sections 3 and 4 respectively of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961. The trial court held the husband guilty under Sections 302 and 498A of the IPC, offence of murder and causing harassment respectively.  Aggrieved by the decision, the appellant approached Uttarakhand HC where both the appeals were dismissed.

The SC bench observed that “Section 106 cannot be invoked to make up for the inability of the prosecution to produce evidence of circumstances pointing to the guilt of the accused. This section cannot be used to support a conviction unless the prosecution has discharged the onus by proving all the elements necessary to establish the offence. It does not absolve the prosecution from the duty of proving that a crime was committed even though it is a matter specifically within the knowledge of the accused and it does not throw the burden of the accused to show that no crime was committed. To infer the guilt of the accused from the absence of a reasonable explanation in a case where the other circumstances are not by themselves enough to call for his explanation is to relieve the prosecution of its legitimate burden. So, until a prima facie case is established by such evidence, the onus does not shift to the accused.”

In this case, the circumstances created a prima facie case, and the husband's failure to explain them weighed against him. The Supreme  Court emphasized the importance of a practical and realistic approach in such cases, especially those involving crimes against women, to ensure that criminals do not escape justice due to procedural technicalities or inadequate investigations. While delivering the judgment, the bench addressed the judgment in the case of Deonandan Mishra vs. the State of Bihar. The SC states “We consider the true rule to be that Section 106 does not cast any burden upon an accused in a criminal trial, but that, where the accused throws no light at all upon the facts which ought to be especially within his knowledge, and which could support any theory of hypothesis compatible with his innocence, the Court can also consider his failure to abduce any explanation, in consonance with the principle laid in Deonandan Mishra’s case.”

The SC held that “The role of courts in such circumstances assumes greater importance and it is expected that the courts would deal with such cases in a more realistic manner and not allow the criminals to escape on account of procedural technicalities, perfunctory investigation or insignificant lacunas in the evidence as otherwise the criminals would receive encouragement and the victims of crime would be totally discouraged by the crime going unpunished. The courts are expected to be sensitive in cases involving crimes against women.” The case was further dismissed by a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court.