A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court discussed the law behind the admissibility of statements during a trial. The Bench stated that the statements, though Court records, do not carry a presumption to the veracity of the statements.
Brief facts of the Case
The Appellant was apprehended by a police party during a traffic check. He was driving a Maruti van. He was searched in the presence of two independent witnesses. A polythene bag was discovered under the seat containing 1kg and 239 grams of narcotics substance.
While the trial Court acquitted the Appellant of all charges, the High Court, on appeal by the State, convicted him. This conviction has been challenged.
The Trial Court observed that the possession of the substance was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, a statement of one of the Police witnesses during the hearing of the Appellant’s bail application pointed towards this recovery of the narcotic substance being deliberate and contradictory to their depositions about not knowing or before engaging with the Appellant. Additionally, the only independent witness (PW1) turned hostile.
The High Court instead observed that the Trial judge wrongly discarded PW1’s testimony. This was because he largely corroborated the Prosecution’s case and merely stated pleaded ignorance to the recovery of the bag. Also, the contradictions in the testimony of the two Police witnesses were remote. The statement of the Police witness was not presented to the Prosecution and thus could not be relied upon.
The Appellant’s Counsel contended that the High Court had exceeded their jurisdiction. Since the sole independent witness had turned hostile, it would be unjustified to convict the Appellant by trusting the police version.
Also, the reply of the Police witness during the bail application was a court record. Hence, it was not required to be proved like a statement recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC 1973.
The State Counsel argued that the conviction by the High Court was well sustained based on the strength of the testimony of official witnesses. Further, the Trial Court had relied upon the reply document when the same had not been brought forth at the stage of cross-examination
The Court first stated that there was no difference in power, scope, jurisdiction, or limitation under the CrPC between appeals against judgments of conviction or acquittal. Further, the Appellate Court was free to reconsider the question of law and fact and re-appreciate evidence. As a practice, the Courts exercise self-restraint.
Here, the Court stated that there was no legal necessity to dwell on the evidence on record and that the scope of the pleas was confined to see whether the Trial Court’s order was perverse and whether the High Court’s re-appreciation of evidence and conviction was founded on cogent grounds.
Then, the Court observed that although there is no need to separately prove the court records emanating during the trial no legal presumption could be extended to the veracity of the contents of such documents. It could be treated as an admission, but it must not only be proved but also the opposite party must be confronted with it during the examination stage.
Hence, here, no weight could be given to the reply of the Police witness as he was not confronted with the same during the examination.
PW1 has admitted and broadly corroborated the prosecution’s case, as noted by the High Court, and had pleaded ignorance only to one single piece of fact. The testimony of the Police witnesses too was not materially inconsistent and hence, was allowed.
The Bench saw no reason to interfere with the conviction and dismissed the appeal. The Bench also noticed the leniency of the High Court while sentencing the Appellant owing to his old age and the long pendency of the trial.
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