Court: if it is suspicious, it should not be acted upon without corroborative evidence
A dying declaration made by a victim, accusing a person of having been responsible for his/her death, cannot form the basis of conviction if it suffers from infirmity, the Supreme Court has held.
A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan said, “Where a dying declaration is suspicious, it should not be acted upon without corroborative evidence. Likewise, where the deceased is unconscious and could never make any declaration, the evidence with regard to it is to be rejected.”
Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “Though there is neither a rule of law nor of prudence that dying declaration cannot be acted upon without corroboration, the court must be satisfied that it is true and voluntary and in that event, there is no impediment in basing conviction on it without corroboration. It is the duty of the court to scrutinise the dying declaration carefully and ensure that it is not the result of tutoring, prompting or imagination.”
In the instant case, appellant Surinder Kumar was convicted by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to undergo life imprisonment for causing the death of his friend's wife by pouring kerosene on her and setting her ablaze. The prosecution alleged that he was visiting his friend Inder Pal's house and developed an illicit relationship with his wife and killed her after the matter came to light. The trial court found her dying declaration untrustworthy and acquitted the appellant. However, the High Court reversed the acquittal and convicted him and awarded life sentence.
The present appeal is directed against this judgment.
Allowing the appeal, the Bench said: “Inasmuch as the dying declaration is the only piece of evidence put forward against the accused, in the light of our discussion and reasoning, the appellant/accused is entitled to the benefit of doubt. We are satisfied that the dying declaration was totally in conflict with the version of the prosecution as to the time of her burning, relation of the appellant with the deceased, except for the implication part, which was clarified in favour of the appellant by prosecution witness Surinder Singh in his cross-examination. In such circumstances, the dying declaration was totally unacceptable, could not be believed as trustworthy, which was rightly not believed so by the trial Court.”
The Bench pointed out that all the principles laid down by this court were fully adhered to by the trial court and rightly acquitted the accused, but on wrong assumption the High Court interfered with the order of acquittal. It said, “Consequently, the conviction and sentence ordered by the High Court is set aside and the order of acquittal passed by the trial court is restored. Since the appellant is on bail, his bail bonds shall stand discharged.”