In the month
of May 2006, in the chaos of Reservation debates with speculation
of World Cup rounding the airs, the Supreme Court judgment in the
Om Prakash v. State of Uttar Pradesh managed to grab its
own fair share of media attention. But was it really fair? Were
there actually earth- shattering principles laid down to protect
the interest of helpless victims of the gruesome crime of rape?
The media hype made us believe so. But closer legal scrutiny
reveals a different story. Hence, what this article seeks to
achieve is to examine whether the judgment in reality laid down
any new principles in relation to appreciation of corroborative
evidence in regard to rape cases.
facts of the case needs to be appreciated. The husband of the
victim was arrested and was brought before the court for challan
proceedings. The accused was a relative of the parents of the
victim and had come to attend the same. The accused in this case
was a relative of the husband who along with the victim, came to
the court. Here during the pendency of the proceedings the accused
directed the brother of the husband of victim to inquire whether
challan was released. In the meanwhile the accused pulled the
victim, who was six months pregnant on to veranda of the zilla
parishad near the court and tried to rape her. She raised alarm
and the accused was assaulted and apprehended to a police station
were an FIR was lodged. The trial and the High Court convicted the
accused particularly based on the statement of the victim and the
eye witnesses and a sentence of ten years was awarded under
section 376 (2) (e) for raping a pregnant women. Supreme Court
dismissed the appeal filed by the accused.
In the instant
case the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the conviction
under section 376(2) (e) was valid or not. Supreme Court based its
final decision on whether the accused had
of knowing that the victim was pregnant. The Court in the absence
reduced the sentence from ten years to seven years.
deciding on the fundamental issue, as obiter the Supreme Court
engaged in an
academic discussion about placing reliance on the
statement of the prosecutrix and convicting the accused.
The paragraph of judgment in focus is Para 11 which reads as
It is settled law that the victim of sexual assault is not
treated as accomplice and as such, her evidence does not require
corroboration from any other evidence including the evidence of a
doctor. In a given case even if the doctor who examined the victim
does not find sign of rape, it is no ground to disbelieve the sole
testimony of the prosecutrix. In normal course a victim of sexual
assault does not like to disclose such offence even before her
family members much less before public or before the police. The
Indian women has tendency to conceal such offence because it
involves her prestige as well as prestige of her family. Only in
few cases, the victim girl or the family members has courage to go
before the police station and lodge a case. In the instant case
the suggestion given on behalf of the defence that the victim has
falsely implicated the accused does not appeal to reasoning. There
was no apparent reason for a married woman to falsely implicate
the accused after scatting her own prestige and honour.
In the first
instance, as the judges themselves point out, the
principles as laid down in the judgment is nevertheless based on
Under the Indian Evidence Act, ‘evidence’ means and includes all
statements which the Court permits or requires to be made before
it by witnesses, in relation to the matters of fact under inquiry.
In case of statement made before the court, The Indian Evidence
Act per se require nowhere any kind of corroboration. A brief
sketch of the law in this regard is as follows.
is not defined within the Indian Evidence Act. The common law
definition of the term is
The word ‘corroboration’ is
not a technical term; it means by itself no more than evidence
tending to confirm, support or strengthen other evidence.It
connotes support or confirmation , and indicates, in relation to
the law of evidence, that certain evidence is confirmed in its
tenor and effect by other admissible and independent evidence (the
It can be deduced from an array of case laws that the
corroboration is based on the principles of prudence. Evidentiary
value of a deposition which is otherwise admissible is not just
wiped out in the absence of corroboration.
A closer analysis of the judgments in relation to rape cases in
the course of the past fifty years reveals as to how Indian
judiciary has perceived the requirement of corroborative evidence.
In the early years the court had followed a narrower
interpretation of the principle of
The principles of that period was succinctly laid down in two
decisions of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court made it clear
1. The prosecutrix in a case of rape cannot be treated as an
2. that the Evidence Act nowhere provides that the evidence of a
prosecutrix in a rape case requires corroboration; and that
3. as a matter of prudence, Courts have insisted on the need of
corroboration of the evidence of the prosecutrix.
This approach of the court could be attributed to the principle
that the statement of an
should be accepted only if it is corroborated. The test for
corroboration however was held to lie
in the naturalness of the story deposed by the prosecutrix.
If there be any doubt as regards its genuineness, there is the
need of caution and, therefore, of corroboration.
However the scenario changed drastically in 1980’s through a
series of landmark judgments. The most significant judgment in
this relation was
Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai
v. State of Gujarat
. The Court in
this case, felt that asking for corroboration in sex offences was
adding insult to injury
of the victim. There was no reason to insist on corroboration
because of the very nature of the offence, i.e. sex crimes, which
makes it almost impossible to gather independent witnesses for
corroboration. However, it was laid that in certain circumstances
corroboration by medical evidence alone was required. These
included cases where a woman of the age of majority is found in
compromising position, who is likely to make accusations for self
preservation and where the
is out of
But gradually this insistence on medical evidence noticeably
diminished over the years. So the recent judgments while
maintaining that no corroboration is required to support the
prosecutrix’s statements, draws no explicit distinction between
medical and other corroboration.
The principle is based on the fact that the victim of the rape is
not an accomplice to the crime and her statement should be relied
upon and the need for corroboration arises only in cases where the
court cannot place implicit reliance on the statement of the
So again in
State of Maharashtra v. Chandra Prakash Kewalchand
Jain , it wa s held that if totality of the circumstances appearing
on the record of the case discloses that the prosecutrix doesn’t
have a strong motive to falsely involve the person charged, the
court should have no hesitation in accepting her evidence.
Various high courts have upheld that a conviction of an accused
can be based solely on the evidence of the prosecutrix if her
evidence is worthy of credence. Insistence on corroboration is
advisable but it is not compulsory in the eye of law.
Later various tests for determining the need for corroboration was
made clear. In
Sher Singh alias Shera v. State it was held that
uncorroborated testimony of a single witness may and can be acted
upon provided that the evidence must be clear and convincing and
should be of unimpeachable character. Various other considerations
were also laid down in this regard. This include statement of prosecutrix,
consistency in statement and increase in the number of
improvements. All in all, these factors must necessarily vary from
case to case.
The position under the English law is similar. Under the English
Law, Corroboration need not consist of direct evidence that the
accused committed the offence. Circumstantial evidence is
sufficient and there is no need for it to amount to a confirmation
of the whole account given by the witness.
If we track
down the principles laid down in rape cases, it is clear that the
sublimation of the need for corroboration is reiterated here as
well. So in
R v Sanders
it was upheld that jury may convict upon the uncorroborated
evidence of the alleged victim. However, the trial judge must warn
the jury that it is dangerous to do so.
After analyzing the law as laid down in
King v. Baskerville , it
can be stated that the English and the Indian law is made of the
same fabric. The present law can thus be summarized as:
In my opinion, the true rule is that in every case of this type
the rule about the advisability of corroboration should be present
to the mind of the Judge.. The tender years of the child, coupled
with other circumstances appearing in the case, may render
corroboration unnecessary but that is a question of fact in each
case.....There is no rule of practice that there must, in every case,
be corroboration before a conviction can be allowed to stand.
The whole discussion essentially brings us back to the fundamental
question of whether
Om Prakash v. State of Uttar Pradesh
was landmark in its true
spirit. Undeniably the conclusion would be the other way round.
Then why was there so huge a media hype generated around the case.
A sensible mind can only guess that it was done to generate more
revenues on caustic issues like rape. It is submitted that a case
should be appreciated on its true merit. No doubt
Om Prakash v.
State of Uttar Pradesh was a stepping stone to achieve the adobe
for the millions of victims of this gross crime. But it is
hopefully not the last one.
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