EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY
Evidence in its broadest sense incorporates everything that is utilized to decide or determine the truth of an assertion. Giving or procuring evidence is the way of utilizing those things that are either presumed to be true or which are proved via proof, to exhibit an assertion’s truth.
As per section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, there are majorly two forms of evidence:
- Oral evidence (statement made by the witnesses)
- Documentary evidence
The eyewitness testimonies are covered under section 3(1) of the Act. This section, thus, provides the statement of an eyewitness given under oath, having a major evidentiary value under Indian law.
A witness can be defined as an individual who can provide information via oral or written depositions given in the court or otherwise. In a general sense, a witness is considered to be a person acting independently from factors like coercion, fraud or false means, as defined in Madhu Madhuranatha V. State of Karnataka. Thus, an eyewitness can be defined as the one who has directly witnessed the commission of the offence i.e. having a direct connection.
In the Criminal Justice System, statements of an eyewitness play a significant role in ensuring the delivery of justice. The principles of Natural Justice make the fundamentals of truth and impartiality a vital consequence of justice. This in turn brings the significance of a third-party reporting the incidents of the crime. Nevertheless, the quality of such statements is presumed to be true and impartial as they are made under an oath. Furthermore, in the case of Vikas Kumar Roorkewal v. State of Uttarakhand & Ors., The Supreme Court while observing and examining the role of witnesses in the criminal justice system, stated that witnesses play an integral role in the criminal justice system and taking legislative measures for the protection of witnesses, contributes towards conducting a fair trial.
Therefore, in this article, the author has tried to examine the evidentiary value of the statements given by the eye-witnesses during the trial and the factors which affect the credibility of the same.
The identification of an eyewitness shapes the testimony for the evidence in criminal offences. For a person to qualify as an eye witness, the following five factors known as the Telfair Instructions shall be satisfied:
- The quality of an eye witness because of the accused of the offence.
- The eyewitness’s confidence with regards to the accuracy of such identification.
- The eye witness’s accuracy concerning the description of the accused.
- The amount of attention the eyewitness paid during the occurrence of the offence.
- The time between the occurrence of the offence and the identification procedure.
In Pratap Chauhan v. Ram Naik, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that an eyewitness statement cannot be ignored on the ground of false implications before cross-checking the evidence with proper care and caution. The court further stated that the testimony of eyewitness cannot be discarded on the ground of minor variations.
In cases of murder, eyewitnesses play a vital role and are considered the most reliable form of witnesses in the eye of law. In the case of Krishna Ram v. the State of Rajasthan, the court held that the credibility and the truthfulness of the statement of the eyewitnesses are not affected if the statements lead to the acquittal of one accused and conviction of others.
Moreover, in the case of State of Uttar Pradesh v. Jagdeo, the court observed that the testimony of the eye-witness cannot be discarded on the ground that the witness is connected to the victim if the evidence given by him is consistent and supported with other witnesses. It is the duty of the court to scrutinize such evidence with proper care and caution.
DRAWBACKS OF EYEWITNESS TESTIMONIES
Even though eyewitness testimonies play a vital role in the justice delivery system; in numerous cases, the same is affected by several factors resulting in the reduction of their accuracy.
In the landmark case of Vikas Kumar Roorkewal v. State of Uttarakhand & Ors., the Supreme Court observed that close care and caution should be made to check if:
- The witness is under an extremely stressful situation or condition at the scene where the offence was taken place or during the process of identification.
- The witness is under any kind of undue influence, coercion, or force while giving the trial court evidence.
- The witness is having anxiety, fear or stress because of the presence of weapons at the scene of the crime.
- The offender was using a mask, wig or any disguise.
- There was any sort of racial disparity between the witness and the suspect.
- The witness had a short viewing time during the commission of a crime or identification process.
- Absence of observance of witness.
- Absence of a specific or particular characteristic of the suspect, e.g., tattoos, marks etc.
- There was any form of threats to the eye-witnesses.
Notwithstanding, the guidelines set by the Supreme Court shall be compulsorily followed by the trial courts and the High courts to avoid any sort of disturbances while examining the witnesses. There shall not be any kind of denial or dispute while doing it.
The admissibility of the eyewitness statement depends upon the assumption that the witness stating under an oath is truthful except if it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that their testimonies are untruthful and unreliable. It is important to scrutinize or to make a close observation while making the statement of the eyewitness admissible. It is the duty and obligation of the court to examine whether or not the eyewitness was under any undue influence while giving the statement; whether or not there has been any threat, any danger to the eyewitnesses etc. It is of most extreme significance that the witnesses are not affected in any manner so that witness can give an impartial and honest statement which would help in the delivery of fair judgment.
Author: Muskan Pipania & Prakhyat Gargasya,
[5th year, B.A. LLB (H)], Dr. RMLNLU, Lucknow