The Supreme Court has urged Sessions and High Courts to exercise caution while convicting an accused, particularly in dowry death cases merely on the basis of the dying declaration.

A Bench of Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Deepak Verma ruled that no court could record a conviction unless a dying declaration was trustworthy, inspired confidence, and was corroborated by other evidence.

Writing the judgment Justice Verma said: “The principle on which dying declarations are admitted in evidence is indicated in legal maxim: [Nemo moriturus praesumitur mentire — a man [woman] will not meet his Maker with a lie in his mouth.] It is indicative of the fact that a man [woman] who is on a death bed would not tell a lie to falsely implicate an innocent person. This is the reason in law to accept the veracity of his/her statement. It is for this reason the requirements of oath and cross-examination are dispensed with.

The Bench said: “Besides, if the dying declaration is to be completely excluded in a given case, it may even amount to miscarriage of justice as the victim alone being the eye-witness in a serious crime; the exclusion of the statement would leave the court without a scrap of evidence.

“The dying declaration should be such which inspires full confidence in the court of its correctness.

“The court has to be on guard that such statement of the deceased was not as a result of either tutoring, prompting or product of imagination. The court must be further satisfied that deceased was in a fit state of mind after a clear opportunity to observe and identify the assailants. Once the court is satisfied that the aforesaid requirement and also to the fact that declaration was true and voluntary, undoubtedly, it can base its conviction without any further corroboration. It is not an absolute rule of law that the dying declaration cannot form the sole basis of conviction unless it is corroborated. The rule requiring corroboration is merely a rule of prudence.”

In the instant case the appellant Shard was awarded life imprisonment by a trial court in Rajasthan holding her guilty of causing the death of her daughter-in-law, Sara by pouring kerosene and setting her ablaze. The conviction was based on the third dying declaration given by Sarla before a Magistrate, accusing the appellant of setting her on fire.

However, in the first two dying declarations before the doctors she had admitted that her sari caught fire accidentally while cooking. The Rajasthan High Court confirmed the conviction and the life sentence. The present appeal is directed against that judgment.

Allowing the appeal and setting aside the impugned judgment and directing her release, the Bench pointed out that in the first two dying declarations the deceased had not blamed anyone. The third declaration was an after-thought and “has been got prepared after the deceased appears to have been tutored to say so by her parents. In the light of this, it has to be completely ignored which we accordingly do so. It neither inspires confidence nor is wholly trustworthy to sustain the conviction of the appellant.”

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