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Unveiling the Complexity: Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act: Admissibility of Confessions and the Discovery of Mental Facts

Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 highlights an interesting and complex feature related to the admission of confessions within its legal framework. This section adds an exception by enabling the admission of confessions that result in the discovery of facts. On the other hand, Sections 25 and 26 establish protection against self-incrimination and abuse of power by the police authority, deeming confessions made in police custody without the presence of a magistrate as inadmissible.

Section 27 states: "Provided that, when any fact is deposed to as discovered in consequence of information received from a person accused of any offence, in the custody of a police officer, so much of such information, whether it amounts to a confession or not, as relates distinctly to the fact thereby discovered, may be proved." In simpler terms, any confession made by a person while in police custody that leads to the revelation of a fact is considered admissible in court.

However, over time, the interpretation of this provision has limited the scope of "fact" to only "physical facts", contrary to the definition of "facts" as embedded in Section 3 of the Evidence Act. This narrowing interpretation disregards the broader definition of "facts" and its potential inclusion of essential psychological or mental facts that may be directly relevant to the case.

While there has been a general consensus regarding the interpretation of Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, recent judgments indicate a shifting landscape as courts increasingly broaden their understanding of this provision. In this article, we will examine the factors that have contributed to both the initial narrowing and subsequent expansion of Section 27.

Pulukuri Kottayya V. King Emperor: A Locus Classicus Influencing the Definition of "Fact"

Pulukuri Kottayya V. King Emperor[1] is frequently quoted and discussed when there is a discussion concerning the inclusion of mental facts. The use of the word "fact" in section 27 was constrained in this particular case as the Privy Council overruled the judgement of In re Athappa Goundan[2], which too relied its judgement on Sukhan v. Crown[3], and concluded that only the portion of the statement that contributed to the discovery of a physical fact was acceptable.

Section 27 of the Evidence Act operates on a significant principle known as the doctrine of conformation, which lies at its core. Under this provision, once confirmation is presented before the honourable court, it becomes irrelevant whether it relates to a mental fact or a physical fact. The focus is on the act of confirmation itself, regardless of the nature of the fact involved.

1. This case of colonial time continues to influence the legal framework and justice-delivering mechanisms of India which is evident from many cases such as the case of State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu in which the apex court deliberated on the interpretation of Section 27 of the Evidence Act, in light of the precedent set by the Pulukuri Kottayya V. King Emperor case. The court ruled that Section 3 of the Evidence Act's definition of the word "fact" did not correspond to Section 27's definition of "fact."

A similar kind of judgement can be found in the cases of Rakesh Kumar Jha[4] & Salim Akhtar[5].

Expanding the Interpretation: Embracing a Broader View of Section 27:

Recently, Justice V. Ram Kumar said that Pulukuri Kottaya[6] continues to persuade the judges on all levels.[7]

The question of whether a mental fact is included in the definition of "fact" in section 27 was never raised in the well-known case of Pulukri[8]. Only that any finding of a body or a weapon would be considered admissible was stated by the court. It was never believed that the scope of section 27 should be restricted to tangible objects or materials.

In the case of King Emperor v. Ramanujam[9], Justice Cornish presented that Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act ought to be interpreted in conjunction with Section 3. This interpretation underscores the importance of considering the "state of things" when invoking Section 3 within the legal framework.

In Firoz Abdul Latif Ghaswala v. State Govt. of NCT of Delhi[10] case, law enforcement received intelligence regarding the transportation of explosives by Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives to Delhi. The suspects confessed that the explosives were intended for an individual scheduled to meet them near a stadium later that evening. Acting on this information, authorities successfully located the individual and uncovered buried explosives. The High Court conducted a thorough analysis of the discovered facts and determined their admissibility within the framework of Section 27. Consequently, the court upheld the entirety of the confession, considering the obtained mental fact as admissible.

Similar findings were observed in the State of Kerala v Babu[11]. The accused was charged with murder for providing the victim with a chemical that acted as a poison. During custody, the accused revealed that he had purchased the chemical from a specific shop. Utilizing this information, the police visited the shop, where the owner admitted to selling the chemical to the accused.

In the case of Mehboob Ali v. State of Rajasthan[12], Mehboob and Firoz were convicted for engaging in criminal conspiracy and possessing counterfeit money. Their statement to the police played a vital role in identifying and apprehending Anju Ali, another co-accused, which in turn led to the exposure of a larger criminal network. Despite their argument of lacking physical evidence to support their confession, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of their statement, emphasizing that the mental fact involved directly contributed to the subsequent arrest.

In the case of Asar Mohd. v. State of U.P[13]., the apex court made a significant observation, referencing the precedent set by the case of Vasanta Sampat Dupare v. State of Maharashtra[14]. The court concluded that the concept of "fact" mentioned in Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act is not limited to physical objects alone. It emphasized that the discovery of a fact can occur when the information provided by the accused demonstrates their knowledge or mental awareness of the fact's existence at a specific location. Considering the specific circumstances of the case under consideration, the honourable Supreme Court also deemed the confession made under police custody as a substantial piece of evidence.

Section 27 goes beyond the disclosure of physical facts and allows for the admissibility of essential psychological or mental facts that are relevant or directly associated with the fact in issue of the case.

When confessions made under police detention were accompanied by mental facts, they were considered admissible as we have seen above. These instances emphasise the need of examining the larger meaning of "fact" and the theory of confirmation in determining the truth and assisting inquiries. The court has started acknowledging that the discovery of a fact might result from the accused's knowledge or mental awareness of its existence in a particular location.

Overall, the developing interpretation of Section 27 demonstrates a greater understanding of the significance of mental facts and the necessity for a multifaceted approach to evaluate the admissibility. This guarantees a fair and reasonable legal framework that takes into account the numerous characteristics of evidence in criminal trials.

  1. Pulukuri Kottayya v. King Emperor, 1946 SCC Online PC 47
  2. Athappa Goundan, In re, 1937 SCC OnLine Mad 76
  3. Sukhan v. Crown, 1929 SCC OnLine Lah 141
  4. Rakesh Kumar Jha v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2012 SCC OnLine Del 5081
  5. Salim Akhtar v. State of U.P., (2003) 5 SCC 499
  6. Supra.
  7. Id.
  8. King Emperor v. M. Ramanujam, 1934 SCC Online Mad 428
  9. Firoz Abdul Latif Ghaswala v. State Govt. of NCT of Delhi, 2012 SCC OnLine Del 4596
  10. State of Kerala v. Babu, 2008 SCC OnLine Ker 707: ILR (2008) 3 Ker 527
  11. Mehboob Ali v. State of Rajasthan, (2016) 14 SCC 640
  12. Asar Mohd. v. State of U.P., (2019) 12 SCC 253
  13. Vasanta Sampat Dupare v. State of Maharashtra, (2015) 1 SCC 253

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