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Appreciation of The Evidence of An Inimical Witness - Raju alias Balachandran v/s Tamil Nadu

Appreciation of The Evidence of An Inimical Witness as discussed in the case of Raju alias Balachandran v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 2013 SC 983

Oral evidence has been greatly relied on in establishing the truthfulness of the events over decades in Criminal Law around the world. However, there are instances when the credibility of such witness is put to test owing to the nature of their relationship with the victim and the accused. In the case of Raju alias Balachandran v. State of Tamil Nadu, (2012) 12 SCC 701, the credibility of the eyewitness has been questioned. This raises serious questions pertaining to the evidentiary value of inimical witnesses and in particular inimical eyewitnesses. The concepts of interested witness and inimical witness shall be evaluated by the author.

Introduction Basic Facts of The Case
An appeal was filed by the accused persons (A1 to A3) pertaining to the reliance of the lower courts on the testimony of PW 5 Srinivasan to convict them in the murder of victim V and his mother Mrs. Marudayi (M). PW 5 was the brother of deceased Mr. Veerappan (V) and the sole eyewitness in the instant case. He was therefore alleged to be biased by the accused – appellants. They alleged that since the remaining prosecution witnesses had turned hostile and that the other witness PW 2 was unable to specify the series of events in detail, only PW 5’s testimony was relied on by the Trial court and contended that it was incorrect. An appeal was filed in the high court by the accused – appellants with regard to the same and was rejected. Hence, the current appeal was filed in the Supreme Court.

Relevant Provisions
Sections 302, 326, 34 and 341 of the Indian Penal Code; Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Concepts Established And Discussed In The Case
The different types of witnesses have been discussed. They include:
1. third-party uninterested witness
2. third party interested witness or a trap witness
3. a related and therefore an interested witness having an interest in seeing that the accused is punished
4. a related and therefore an interested witness having an interest in seeing the accused punished and having some enmity with the accused.

Concept of interested witness and related witness was questioned. Inimical witness was also elaborated upon and their significance with respect to testimony has been affirmed.

Analysis
Eminent Jurist Bentham had propounded that, ‘Witnesses are the eyes and ears of justice’.1 Therefore, careful evaluation is conducted by the courts to establish their nature in every case. The definition of evidence states ‘all statements which the Court permits or requires to be made before it by witnesses’ 2 thus placing very high reliance on the testimony of such witnesses. Though a witness is not defined under the Evidence Act, Chapter IX of the act deals with witnesses listing down who may and may not be allowed to testify. A witness is ‘One who sees, knows, or vouches for something.’3 The testimony of the witnesses is admissible as oral evidence in the court of law.4 Witnesses have been classified based on the nature on reliability as well as their nature. They have been classified as (i) those that are wholly reliable, (ii) those that are wholly unreliable (iii) who are neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable.5 Witnesses can be primarily classified into four types. They are:
1. Third-party uninterested witness
2. Third party interested witness or a trap witness
3. Related and therefore an interested witness having an interest in seeing that the accused is punished
4. Related and therefore an interested witness having an interest in seeing the accused punished and having some enmity with the accused.

In the present case, the dispute was pertaining to the 4th type of witness who can also be called an inimical witness. However, it is imperative to examine the concept of Interested witness to differentiate between the same.

Interested Witness
An interested witness is someone who has a direct and private interest in the matter at issue.6 Interested witnesses’ testimony cannot be rejected merely on the ground that they were related to the victim.7 However, they are subject to close scrutiny.8 It is not the law that the evidence of interest witnesses is not entitled to any weight,9 thus rendering it authoritative value. It has merely been said that it shall be scrutinized with care.10 This principle has recently been reaffirmed in cases such as Varun Kumar v. State of Bihar,11 Jodhan v. State of M.P.,12 While evidence of interested witness cannot be dismissed directly, there arises another category of interested witnesses who bear ill-will or enmity with the accused persons.

Inimical Witness: Inimicitia Capitalis
The concept of inimical enemy is an age old one and not recent. Inimical has been derived from the Latin word ‘inimicus’ meaning an enemy. The concept of inimicitia capitalis has been prevalent in the Judicial decisions in England and Europe since the 1200s. It is the Latin phrase for Deadly enmity. 13 The prisoners were asked to name their enemies so that less attention would be paid to their testimony and if they fell under the category of inimicitia capitalis, only then would they be completely disqualified as a witness.14 However, the witness is purged of any malice in initialibus, i.e. in the preliminary stage15 by the oath taken.16 The objections to such witnesses if unaccompanied by deeds are disregarded.17

This stand has been adopted in numerous Supreme Court Decisions. Another aspect to considered is in the case of res gestae witnesses, who are also inimical. These are the witnesses witness who, having been at the scene of an incident, can give a first-hand account of what happened. 18 They can be called eyewitnesses. It has been held that the evidence of an eyewitness cannot be rejected only on the ground that enmity exists between the parties.19 It has also been held that the evidence or testimony should not be thrown out merely because the eyewitnesses bore ill – will towards the accused or their family members.20 Courts have also noted that in the absence of corroboration to a material extent in all material particulars, it was extremely hazardous to convict the appellants on the basis of the testimony of these highly interested, inimical and partisan witnesses, particularly when it bristles with improbable versions and material infirmities. 21 This depicts the dual nature and the extreme care and caution ought to be exercised with inimical witnesses.

However, cases similar to Raju alias Balachandran v. State of Tamil Nadu have previously persisted with similar circumstances with the sole eye witness being the interested and inimical person. The courts have affirmed their testimonies on corroboration with the facts.22 Mechanical rejection of the testimony of inimical witnesses has been condemned by the courts.23 Finally, it has been affirmed that evidence of any witness cannot be rejected merely on the ground that interested witnesses admittedly has enmity with the persons implicated in the case. The purpose of recording the evidence, in any case, shall always be to unearth the truth of the case and conviction can even be on the testimony of the sole eyewitness, if the same inspires confidence.24

Conclusion And Suggestions
This depicts the extremely high standard adhered to by courts in relying on the testimony of the witnesses. While the nature of inimical witnesses has been considered in ensuring to adhere to the standard of ‘innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt’, the courts have also upheld that ‘no wrong shall go unpunished’. The judiciary has made provision to ensure that justice prevails even if it has to rely on the testimony of a single person, placing justice on a pedestal that can be called supreme. Clear distinction can however be made when the accused – appellants try to use the blanket term of interested, inimical persons.

End-Notes:
1 Zahira Habibullah Sheikh & Anr. v. State of Gujarat and Ors., (2004) 4 SCC 158.
2 The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 Section 3.
3 Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 1740 (9th Ed., 2009); Madhu @ Madhuranatha v. State of Karnataka, 2014 (2) Kant LJ 158 : 2014(84) ACR C 329 : AIR 2014 (SC) 394.
4 The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 Section 3.
5 Vadivelu Thevar v. State of Madras, 1957 SCR 981 : AIR 1957 SC 614 : 1957 Cri LJ 1000; Sampath Kumar v. Inspector of Police, Krishnagiri, (2012) 4 SCC 124 : (2012) 2 SCC (Cri) 42 : 2012 SCC Online SC 234.
6 Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 1741 (9th Ed., 2009).
7 Ramanbhai Naranbhai Patel and others v. State of Gujarat, (2000) 1 SCC 358 : 2000 SCC (Cri) 113.
8 Meharaj Singh (L/Nk) v. State of U.P. with Kalu v. State of U.P. and others, (1994) 5 SCC 188 : 1994 SCC (Cri) 391.
9 Ramaphula Reddy and others v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1970) 3 SCC 474 : 1971 SCC (Cri) 80.
10 id.
11 Varun Kumar v. State of Bihar, 2017 SCC Online Pat 2056.
12 Jodhan v. State of M.P., (2015) 11 SCC 52 : (2015) 4 SCC (Cri) 275.
13 Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 854 (9th Ed., 2009).
14 Maureen Mulholland, Judicial Tribunals In England And Europe, 1200-1700: The Trial In History, Volume 1 180 (Oup, 2013).
15 Bryan A. Garner, Black’s Law Dictionary 854 (9th Ed., 2009).
16 Archibald Alison, Practice Of The Criminal Law Of Scotland 482 (W. Blackwood Ed., 1833).
17 James Harkness, (April 3, 1797); John Burnett & Robert Craigie, A Treatise On Various Branches Of The Criminal Law Of Scotland 413 (1811); Archibald Alison, Practice Of The Criminal Law Of Scotland 482 (W. Blackwood Ed., 1833).   

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