Without corroboration, conviction on oral testimony of interested witnesses is not sustainable: Supreme Court

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On March 14, 2023, the Supreme Court heard the Nand Lal vs. The State of Chhattisgarh case and stated that the conviction of accused purely on the basis of oral testimony of interested witnesses, without sufficient corroboration, it would not be sustainable. The case was presented before the Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Vikram Nath, B.R. Gavai, and Sanjay Karol. The bench stated that “Taking into consideration the delay in lodging the FIR, with the circumstance of their names not being mentioned in the contemporaneous documents, the possibility of the said accused being falsely implicated cannot be ruled out.” The top Court set aside the judgment and order passed by the Chhattisgarh High Court which supported conviction as well as a sentence of life imprisonment to three appellants and others accused of murder.

During the investigation of this case, it was concluded that a charge- sheet came to be filed against 12 accused persons before the Judicial Magistrate First Class, Baloda Bazar. Since the case was exclusively triable by the Sessions Judge, the same was committed to the Sessions Court. The names of all other accused have been specifically mentioned in the documents such as merg panchnama, spot panchnama, and inquest panchnama. It was determined that names of the appellants were not mentioned on these documents which were further argued in the Supreme Court. The learned counsel submitted that “though the incident had occurred the testimonies of all the three witnesses that they had seen the incident in the moonlight and in the light of a lamp cannot be said to be trustworthy.” The learned counsel further submitted that one of the prosecution’s witnesses admitted that he had hidden in a grain store (kothi); therefore, it cannot be said that he witnessed the incident. In addition, the appellants also argued that the delay in registering the FIR was not elaborated by the prosecution, “The effect of delay in lodging the FIR would differ in the facts and circumstances of each case.” 

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The learned counsel, Shri Vikas Upadhyay, appearing on behalf of two of the accused stated that “the conviction was purely on the basis of such interested witnesses, whose testimony is not cogent and trustworthy, and is not sustainable unless there is some corroboration of their testimony.” On the contrary, the prosecution submitted that all three witnesses clearly implicated the appellants. He further added that the testimonies of the witnesses cannot be discarded on the ground that they were interested witnesses as long as their evidence was found to be reliable, cogent, and trustworthy. The top Court then opined that “the conviction of these accused purely on the basis of oral testimony of the interested witnesses, without sufficient corroboration, would not be sustainable.” Due to the lack of corroboration, the order passed by the High Court and trial Court was set aside by the Supreme Court bench. Moreover, the bench applauded learned counsel and amicus curiae for their efforts, “ A special mention needs to be made of the painstaking efforts taken by Shri Renjith B. Marar, learned counsel, who was appointed through the Supreme Court Legal Services Authority as an amicus curiae for accused.”

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