EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF DYING DECLARATION UNDER INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT

  Abstract

This paper critically examine the admissibility and evidentiary value of dying declaration by assessing various judicial pronouncement. This paper meticulously explores the historical development of dying declaration which presumes the veracity of statements made in the face of impending death by assessing their roots to the 1789 case of King v William Woodcock and the principle “Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentiri”. It deals with the legal provisions under section 32 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872, that authorise dying declarations as an exception to the prohibition on hearsay evidence, highlighting their role in travesty of justice in the absence of other eyewitnesses. 

This paper critically analyses the landmark judicial pronouncement and the evolving views of court regarding the reliability on dying declaration, emphasising supportive and dubious views. It also deals with the inherent limitations of such declarations, including the absence of cross-examination, potential biases, and the risk of villainous intention. This paper also explore the evolving judicial stance from rigid to flexible, as earlier it is necessary to consider the corroborative evidence but afterwards the corroborative evidence is not necessarily required in every case. 

Keywords:- Dying Declaration, Evidentiary Value, Hearsay Evidence, Judicial Stance, Corroborative Evidence

1. INTRODUCTION

Hearsay evidence is generally not admissible in most of the judicial systems around the world because to its potential for unreliability in the absence of a cross-examination process to confirm its veracity. This includes statement made by the deceased, such as final will and testaments, which are usually contemplated as irrelevant and inadmissible. There are, however, some exceptions because of distinctive circumstances, especially with regard to dying declaration. Except for the victim, there are frequently no other eyewitnesses in cases like murder. Crucial evidence might be lost if their testimony regarding the events leading up to their death is excluded from the court proceedings. This could lead to the offender remaining unpunished and possibly a miscarriage of justice. Despite the incapacity to cross-examine, dying declarations are permitted in order to counterbalance this. “This exception is justified by the idea that a dying person is unlikely to lie because they are confronting their impending death and frequently have strong religious beliefs”. This concept supports the admissibility of dying declarations in court.

The concept of a dying declaration is not new. It implies that statements made by someone who is dying but is unable to testify in court is nonetheless considered as admissible evidence. This relates to the Latin proverb “Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentiri,” which means to “a dying person is presumed to tell the truth.” There’s a widespread belief in Indian law that those who are facing death are more likely to tell the truth. Therefore, their last remarks may be utilised in court to support rulings and even to penalise wrongdoers.

The earliest judicial pronouncement cited in the case of , King v William Woodcock, “1789” established the principle that dying declarations are admissible in court. These declarations are made by people who believe they are on the verge of death and have no hope in this world. According to Judge Eyre, Chief Baron, such circumstances are considered so solemn and serious that they create a strong obligation to speak the truth is similar to taking an oath in a court of law. However, he also recognised the need for prudence, stressing that the jury should consider all the relevant facts when determining how credible such statements are. Moreover, Judge Eyre highlights the issues related to the cross-examination opportunities and any potential biases and inaccuracies while delivering such statements, particularly when influenced by feelings of revenge, fury, or desire to hide personal wrongdoing. The jury is instructed to be cautious while examining various factors that leads to circumstances under which the statements were made such as, any potential influence, any inconsistencies etc.

2. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

The researcher employs a “Quantitative Research” design focusing on detailed analysis of judicial decisions (case laws) related to dying declarations under Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

The criteria of selection of case laws includes, the landmark judgements from the Supreme Court of india, significant ruling from various high courts, recent and relevant cases that highlights the evolving nature of legal interpretations.

The source of data used by the researcher in this study includes, legal databases such as SSC Online, Manupatra, and LexisNexis, published law reports and legal journals, official court websites for accessing full text judgements.

The researcher developed the “Theme” such as credibility of witness, “corroborative requirements”, “circumstances of the declarations”, and “judicial safeguards”

The process of analysis of the researcher includes “Comparative Analysis” and “Interpretative Analysis” in which comparing and analysing various judicial interpretation across different cases to identify consistencies and divergence in legal reasoning, and interpreting the implication of judicial decisions for broader legal principles governing dying declaration.

Researcher adhered the proper citation norms for all legal sources and judgement referenced.

Outcome of the research includes comprehensive insights into the judicial approach to dying declaration under under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and the thematic understanding of the factors influencing the admissibility and reliability of dying declaration

3. LITERATURE REVIEW 

As per section 32(1) of the Indian Evidence Act provides that the Admissibility of statement given by a deceased person concerning the cause of death or circumstances give rise to it. In contrary, English Law requires the declarant to expect impending death, making its scope narrower. Any declaration seeking to qualify as a dying declaration under section 32(1) has to be made after the declarant has died and it must relate to the death of the person or circumstances of their death. Whether the statement made during actual time of death is immaterial. Dying declarations can be made in various forms- verbal, written or through signs ones to allow for some flexibility in terms of their admissibility. Indian courts have always taken a keen interest in examining dying statement to ensure that they are not suspicious or influenced. In case of “Pakala Narayana Swami v. Emperor” it was held that corroboration of dying declaration is not necessary if it is not suspicious. However, court may requires corroboration if necessary.

The reliability of a statement made by a dying person can be dependent on how genuine and spontaneous it is. In case of “K. Ramachandra Reddy v. Public Prosecutor” the Indian Supreme Court stressed that the deceased had to be of sound mind while making his statement before dying. No certification from medical sources can nullify the dying declaration, but authenticity should be ascertained from other circumstantial evidence by the court.

There is an essential need for consistency in several dying declarations with greater weight given to the initial reliable declaration while those that are inconsistent must be closely scrutinised as in “Khushal Rao v. State of Bombay”

4. EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF DYING DECLARATION 

Section 32 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 prohibits hearsay evidence and the dying declarations is the first exception to this prohibition. The dying declarations is basically a statement made by an individual concerning the reason behind their death or the events surrounding to it. In spite of the the nature of the legal procedure or the possibility of death of the individual who delivers the statements, dying declarations are admissible in legal arena. If the testimony is genuine and reliable, it is regarded as substantive evidence; however, the court must ensure that the witness was not coerced and they were of sound mind at the time of delivering the statement. The dying declaration is extremely useful in court because, if the court is satisfied, it can utilise it to convict someone without any more evidence. 

“Sham Shankar Kankaria v. State of Maharashtra” The Supreme Court acknowledged the importance of a dying person declaration made in solemn and serene manner on their deathbed. It considered such statements to be inherent truthful, negating the necessity for traditional legal procedures like oaths and cross-examinations. In situations where the victim is the only eyewitness to major crimes and giving the court with vital evidence even in their absence, this verdict aims to prevent miscarriages of justice.

“Munnu Raja v. State of MP” The First Information Report (FIR) recorded by police, in this instance, was regarded by the court as a dying declaration. The FIR was subject to the same evidentiary standard as a dying declaration because of the circumstances surrounding its recording, which led the court to consider it as a statement made by the victim before their death.

In case of suspicion, a conviction might not be possible if the prosecution only uses a dying declaration that is supported by circumstances that raise questions about its authenticity. For instance, if a dying declaration made before a magistrate is not signed by the deceased and is not marked with the date and time of recording, and the prosecution is unable to provide a valid  explanation, the declaration is considered inadmissible. (State of M.P. v. A Singh)

As per the case “Natha Shankar Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra,” the accused shall be granted the benefit of the doubt if there is any reason to suspect dying declaration. Consequently, if there are obvious doubts about a dying declaration, it should not be believed.

5. CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF DYING DECLARATION 

The Select Committee intentionally avoided using the term “hearsay evidence” when crafting the Indian Evidence Act. Critics contend that this was an arbitrary ruling that disregarded the notion of hearsay evidence as a universal concept. They believe that this strategy overlooked the vulnerability present in dying declaration. Additionally, detractors contend that by removing the ethical and religious basis of dying declarations, the second paragraph of Section 32(1) compromises their sanctity and evidentiary value. Dying declarations are nonetheless accepted as evidence in situations when there isn’t another witness or piece of evidence, notwithstanding these objections.

In India, dying declarations have a great deal of evidentiary value because they have been relied upon to prove guilt or innocence in many situations. But there are a few things to consider about when using them. One significant issue is the widespread misconception that those who are dying will only tell the truth. However, according to Section 32(1) of IEA states that a dying declarations need not be made at the precise moment of death. It can be made when someone anticipates their death. This casts doubt on the reliability of such claims because, in contemporary culture, it’s not always the case that someone who is about to die will always tell the truth.

Furthermore, there’s no safeguard against dying declarations made with malicious intention of causing harm, driven by feelings of hatred or revenge. Indian law emphasizes the significance of taking into account the conditions and setting in which dying declarations are made in an effort to address these concerns. Despite these efforts, questions remain regarding the validity of dying declarations. People may take advantage of the importance placed on such remarks to settle personal grievances or harm the reputations of their adversaries. Because of this, even though final statements are the valuable pieces of evidence, their veracity is always subject to scrutiny.

In judicial proceedings, dying declarations are frequently regarded as substantial evidence and are generally considered as strong evidence. They aren’t, however, the sole consideration when determining guilt. They can occasionally be the primary piece of evidence needed to find someone guilty, although this isn’t a strict rule. In general, dying declarations are seen as strong evidence and are often considered solid proof in court cases. However, they’re not always the only factor in deciding someone’s guilt. Sometimes, they’re used as the main evidence to convict someone, but this isn’t a strict rule. As a result, in order for the legal system to reach just conclusions, each case must be considered separately. Consequently, the work of juries and judges may become more difficult.

6. LIMITATIONS OF DYING DECLARATION AS EVIDENCE

  • The capacity to put evidence under cross-examination is one of the fundamental principles of assuring its reliability. Nevertheless, the accused cannot cross-examine a dying declaration, which reduces the chance to refute the accuracy or truthfulness of the statement.
  • Dying declarations are not required to be made on oath, in contrast to testimony provided under oath in court. This lack of duty casts doubt on the reliability and sincerity of the statement because the declarant is not constrained by the solemnity of an oath.
  • A dying declaration must be made with the hopeless prospect of an immediate death under British law, which imposes a significant moral burden on the declarant. The statement’s veracity is strengthened by the fear of approaching death and the penalties for lying. Nevertheless, Indian law does not impose this condition, which may reduce the moral obligation to speak the truth.
  • Generally the dying declarations are given in secret or privately, and public scrutiny that is the sole method to identify the truth behind it, is not possible. So, there are certain concern related to the possibility of external influence due to the secretive nature of the evidence. 
  • A dying declarations is not similar to other type of evidence, such as eyewitness, testimony, confessions etc. It is not much credible evidence as others.
  • Due to significant societal developments that have challenged moral and religious opinion occur in contemporary period, the validity of dying declarations has become outdated.

7. CHANGING STANCES OF COURTS WITH RESPECT TO DYING DECLARATION

Earlier, the acceptance of dying declarations without collaboration was not possible as the courts were rigid in this regard. In the case of “Ram Nath v. State of Madhya Pradesh”, the Supreme Court highlights the  gravity of risk arises while convicting someone solely based on dying declaration. The court noted that dying declarations are not made under oath or subject to cross-examination. Furthermore, the declarant’s statement might have been impacted by their emotions or imagination at the time. As a result, the Supreme Court emphasised how crucial it is to corroborate dying declarations before using them as evidence.

However, the Supreme Court disregarded long-standing traditional views in “Khushal Rao v. State of Bombay,” that dying declarations are inherently weaker forms of evidence. The Court contended that because dying declarations are made in serious situations where the declarant is expected to speak the truth, they should be treated the same as other types of evidence. The court rejected the inflexible requirement that a dying declarations must be corroborated in order to serve the conviction of an accused. Despite this assertion, the doubt remained about the reliability of dying declarations. Because of these inherent limitations, many people continued to assume that they are weaker form of evidence. Furthermore, the Court’s claim that dying declarations made to a competent magistrate are more reliable was a matter of disputed, as the weaknesses remain regardless of who records them.

The Court’s stance on dying declarations hasn’t altered for several years since the Khushal Rao case. As we can see in the case of “Kori v. State,” it highlights that although depending only on a dying declarations to secure a conviction is dangerous, However, it can still be valid evidence if corroborated. Dying declarations should be assessed based on the particulars of each case, just like any other piece of evidence. Courts need to keep in mind that dying declarations are not made in the presence of the accused, they are not delivered under oath, and they are not subject to cross-examination. It can, however, result in a conviction even in the absence of corroboration if the court is convinced of its veracity after taking all relevant circumstances into account. This stance of Calcutta High Court is seems  more balanced one in contrast to the more rigid position adopted by the Supreme Court in cases such as Khushal Rao v. State of Maharashtra.

However, Courts’ views on dying declarations have been shifting since the 1980s, with a growing tendency to accept dying declarations on its own without other evidence supporting the accused’s guilt. The basic tenet upon which a dying declaration is accepted was restated in the case of State of Assam v. Mafizuddin Ahmed that no one would want to die having spoken a falsehood. The dying man, being the victim, may have been the only eyewitness to the incident, making his statement direct evidence. The court ruled that a conviction can be based only on a dying declaration if its reliability is beyond doubt.

Following this trend, the Supreme Court in the case of “State of U.P. v. Ram Sagar Yadav” stated that the court’s primary concern is ascertaining the veracity of the dying declaration. There is no need for additional corroboration if dying declarations  is turns out to be true. For assurance, the court may, however, request corroboration if the circumstances surrounding the deathbed pronouncement are ambiguous or unconvincing.

Since 2000s the corroboration evidence to support dying declaration has gained prominence because in the modern society people no longer generally believe that people always tell the truth when he is on deathbed. Skepticism regarding such beliefs has grown due to significant societal changes that have weakened moral and religious beliefs. So, the presumptions regarding the veracity of dying declarations are no longer valid. Corroborating evidence is therefore required in judicial proceedings to guarantee the veracity and reliability of dying declarations.

“Raja Ram v. State of Rajasthan” This case is noteworthy because it dealt with the reliability and admissibility of dying declaration. In this case, Supreme Court stressed how crucial it is to carefully and cautiously examine dying declarations, particularly when they serve as the only basis for conviction. And in this situation, court also asserted the requirement of supportive evidence.

In the case of “Sampat Babso Kale v. State of Maharashtra” The Supreme Court emphasised that if there is any question arises with regard to the accuracy of dying declaration or mental fitness of the declarant at the time of delivering statement then in such case victim’s dying declarations can not be considered and relied as absolute evidence for conviction and there is need to prove the reliability of dying declaration by other corroborative evidences.  

“Jayamma v. State of Karnataka” In this case Supreme Court emphasise that unless there is no other corroborative evidences such as any facts, witness or circumstantial evidences, are available to support dying declaration of the victim, conviction of accused can’t be granted solely on the basis of dying declaration.

These days, the court closely scrutinised dying declarations to make sure that such statements meet the required legal standards. The court continuously highlighting the necessity of supporting corroborative evidence with dying declarations, especially in cases where they serve as the sole basis for conviction.

8. CONCLUSION

The court shows conflicting opinion time to time while considering Dying declarations as evidence, which makes this a controversial matter in legal discourse. Since, dying declarations are made in such sacred moment, people have always assumed it to be true. However, in changing legal landscape and modern skepticism demand revaluation of such declarations in court proceeding. It has several limitations, such as lack of cross examination, possibility of biases, potential manipulation etc, although they provide valuable insight into the events that leads to victims death. Despite of these limitations, dying declarations are considered as useful piece of evidence when no other witness or supporting evidences are available. However, to guarantee the accuracy and avoid travesty of justice, it is important to set safeguards and standards for evaluating the mental condition and closely examining the circumstances surrounding the declarations of death, and if necessary verify the statements with other evidence. Through an analysis of historical precedents, contemporary legal opinion, and practical aspect, this study seek to enhance our awareness of the intricate issues related to the use of dying declarations in contemporary legal frameworks.

NAME                               :-       NEHA KUMARI

COLLEGE NAME            :-       SYMBIOSIS LAW SCHOOL NAGPUR

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