The Supreme Court, which on Friday laid down guidelines on confessional statements made by the accused before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Cr.P.C., held that while recording such statements the provisions of this Section must be complied with not only in form but also in essence.

Upholding the life imprisonment awarded to Dara Singh in the Staines murder case, a Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan said it had become necessary to lay down the principles, as it was pointed by counsel for the appellants that all confessions, though made before a magistrate, obtained by force were inadmissible, as some of them were in police custody and the confessions made after conspiracy ceased to be operative.

Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “Before proceeding to record the confessional statement, a searching enquiry must be made from the accused as to the custody from which he was produced and the treatment he had been receiving in such custody in order to ensure that there is no scope for doubt of any sort of extraneous influence proceeding from a source interested in the prosecution; a magistrate should ask the accused why he wants to make a statement which surely shall go against his interest in the trial; the maker should be granted sufficient time for reflection; he should be assured of protection from any sort of … apprehended torture or pressure from the police in case he declines to make a confessional statement; a judicial confession not given voluntarily is unreliable, more so when such a confession is retracted, the conviction cannot be based on such retracted judicial confession; non-compliance with Section 164 of the Cr.P.C. goes to the root of the magistrate's jurisdiction to record the confession and renders the confession unworthy of credence; during the time of reflection, the accused should be completely out of police influence. The judicial officer, entrusted with the duty of recording confession, must apply his judicial mind to ascertain and satisfy his conscience that the statement of the accused is not on account of any extraneous influence on him; at the time of recording the statement of the accused, no police or police official shall be present in the open court; confession of a co-accused is a weak type of evidence; usually the court requires some corroboration from the confessional statement before convicting the accused person on such a statement.”

Slogans by miscreants

In this case, the Bench said: “It is relevant to point out that all the eyewitnesses examined by the prosecution consistently stated that during occurrence, the miscreants raised slogans in the name of Dara Singh as ‘Dara Singh Zindabad.' The story of this slogan was also mentioned in the first information report filed soon after the occurrence. This slogan is in the name of Dara Singh, corroborates the identification before the trial court for the first time. In addition to the same, some of the witnesses identified Dara Singh by photo identification.”

The Bench pointed out that all witnesses mentioned the blowing of whistle by Dara Singh. This material, coupled with the other corroborative evidence, was permissible, it said, rejecting the appellant's contention.

The witnesses, it noted, had specified the role of Dara Singh and co-accused Mahendra Hembram, “which we agree with and confirm the same, and we also maintain the conviction and the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on them.”