In a significant ruling in criminal law, the Supreme Court held that the dying declaration of a burn victim against her attackers should not be dismissed simply her burn injuries are extensive, even a 100 per cent.
The Supreme Court said trial courts cannot brush aside the last words of a victim on the presumption that the burns are so grave that it would have affected the mind and consciousness.
Defence cast doubts
A dying declaration has great sanctity in criminal law as it is believed that a dying person will not lie. However, trial lawyers have highlighted the extent of burn injuries of the victim to claim benefit of doubt for their accused-clients.
Setting the law straight in a recent judgment, a Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Amitava Roy held that “percentage of burns alone would not determine the probability or otherwise of making a dying declaration. Physical state or injuries on the declarant do not by themselves become determinative of mental fitness of the declarant to make the statement”.
Holding that a dying declaration is an independent piece of evidence like any other, “neither extra strong or weak,” Justice Sikri, who wrote the judgment for the Bench, observed that “there is no hard and fast rule of universal application as to whether percentage of burns suffered is a determinative factor to affect credibility of dying declaration”.
The Supreme Court was upholding the sentence of life imprisonment awarded to the husband and three in-laws on the basis of the last words of a woman who suffered 100 per cent burns after she was set on fire by them at Jhajjar district in Haryana in September 1999. Prosecution evidence placed on record in court showed that the mother of two was tortured for dowry throughout the 20 years of her marriage. But the trial court had acquitted the convicts after the victim's own brother turned hostile and said that she committed suicide.
The High Court, however, overturned their acquittal after giving full credence to the dying declaration of the victim, recorded in the presence of a local magistrate, indicting the four convicts. The Supreme Court confirmed the HC’s judgment.