Testimony of sole eye witness is seldom considered as credible. Inordinate delay in filing FIR (First Information Report), an information given to Police Officials under sub-section (1) of section 154 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973, interested and related sole eye witness compels the court to look for corroboration. However, the section 134 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 provides for no particular number of witnesses in any case be required for the proof of any fact.
In Vadivelu Thevar vs the State of Madras, Criminal Appeal No. 24 & 25 of 1957, the Supreme Court laid following principle with regard to evidence of single witness:
“On a consideration of the relevant authorities and the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, the following propositions may be safely stated as firmly established:
(1) As a general rule, a court can and may act on the testimony of a single witness though uncorroborated. One credible witness outweighs the testimony of a number of other witnesses of indifferent character.
(2) Unless corroboration is insisted upon by statute, courts should not insist on corroboration except in cases where the nature of the testimony of the single witness itself requires as a rule of prudence, that corroboration should be insisted upon, for example in the case of a child witness, or of a witness whose evidence is that of an accomplice or of an analogous character.
(3) Whether corroboration of the testimony of a single witness is or is not necessary, must depend upon facts and circumstances of each case and no general rule can be laid down in a matter like this and much depends upon the judicial discretion of the Judge before whom the case comes.
In view of these considerations, we have no hesitation in holding that the contention that in a murder case, the court should insist upon plurality of witnesses, is much too broadly stated. Section 134 of the Indian Evidence Act has categorically laid it down that ” no particular number of witnesses shall in any case be required for the proof of any fact.”
In Shivaji Sahebrao Bobade & Anr vs State Of Maharashtra, Criminal Appeal No. 26 of 1970, the Supreme Court stated following:
“Even if the case against the accused hangs on the evidence of a single eye-witness it may be enough to sustain the conviction given sterling testimony of a competent, honest man, although as a rule of prudence courts call for corroboration. It is a platitude to say that witnesses have to be weighed and not counted since quality matters more than quantity in human affairs.”
In Ramji Surjya & Another vs State of Maharashtra, Criminal Appeal No.429 of 1980, the Supreme Court held following:
“There is no doubt that even where there is only a sole eye witness of a crime, a conviction may be recorded against the accused concerned provided the Court which hears such witness regards him as honest and truthful. But prudence requires that some corroboration should be sought from the other prosecution evidence in support of the testimony of a solitary witness particularly where such witness also happens to be closely related to the deceased and the accused are those against whom some motive or ill will is suggested. Now in the instant case a careful analysis of the evidence relating to the inordinate delay involved in the giving of the first information to the police and the other inherent inconsistencies in the evidence of the sole eye witness i.e. Surjabai (P. W.2) shows that her evidence cannot be considered as sufficient to find the accused guilty. The first information (Exh. P. 10) itself appears to be one prepared after some deliberation. The role attributed to Gumba (P.W.5), the former Police Patil in the prosecution evidence compels the Court to look for corroboration from the other prosecution evidence before accepting the evidence of Surjabai (P.W. 2).”
In Anil Phukan vs State of Assam, Criminal Appeal No. 757 of 1985, the Supreme Court held following:
“This case primarily hinges on the testimony of a single eye witness Ajoy PW3. Indeed, conviction can be based on the testimony of a single eye-witness and there is no rule of law or evidence which says to the contrary provided the sole witness passes the test of reliability. So long as the single eye-witness is a wholly reliable witness the courts have no difficulty in basing conviction on his testimony alone. However, where the single eye-witness is not found to be a wholly reliable witness, in the sense that there are some circumstances which may show that he could have an interest in the prosecution, then, the courts generally insist upon some independent corroboration of his testimony, in material particulars, before recording conviction. It is only when the courts find that the single eyewitness is a wholly unreliable witness that his testimony is discarded in toto and no amount of corroboration can cure that defect. It is in the light of these settled principles that we shall examine the testimony of PW3 Ajoy.”
The Supreme Court has deliberated on this issue in many other cases. Few of them is tabulated below to appreciate this issue in toto:
Supreme Court Decision
|Single Eye-Witness||Reason for confirmation/reversal of conviction by Supreme Court||Remarks|
|Kartik Malhar vs State of Bihar, Appeal (Crl.)- 1363 of 1995||PW2- Fulmani, wife of deceased||Two of the alleged eye- witnesses had turned hostile, her statement was fully corroborated by other circumstances of the case including the medical evidence.||Confirmation of lower courts conviction.|
|Lallu Manjhi & Anr vs State of Jharkhand, Appeal (Crl.)- 15 of 2002||PW9- Mannu||The version of the incident given by the sole eyewitness who is also an interested witness on account of his relationship with the deceased and being inimically disposed against the accused persons is highly exaggerated and not fully corroborated by medical evidence.||Acquittal of accused and reversal of successive conviction by lower courts.|
|Sunil Kumar vs State Govt. of NCT Of Delhi, Appeal (Crl.)- 263 of 2003||PW5- Rajesh||The evidence of PW5 alone was sufficient to fix the guilt of the accused persons. Merely because of the fact that there were some minor omissions, which are but natural, considering the fact that the examination in court took place years after the occurrence the evidence does not become suspect.||Confirmation of lower courts conviction.|
|Namdeo vs State of Maharashtra, Appeal (Crl.) – 914 of 2006||PW6- Sopan||The testimony of PW6- Sopan appeared to be trustworthy and reliable.||Confirmation of lower courts conviction|
|Kunju @ Balachandran vs State of Tamil Nadu, Appeal (Crl.)-112 of 2008||PW2- Siva||The testimony of sole eyewitness cannot be described as wholly reliable.||Confirmation of lower court conviction|
|Kuna@Sanjay Behera vs State of Odisha, Criminal Appeal No.- 677 of 2010||PW1-Niranjan Behera||
The evidence of PW1, as a witness of incident of murder, as projected by him is wholly unacceptable being fraught with improbabilities, doubts and oddities inconceivable with normal human conduct or behaviour and, thus cannot be acted upon as the basis of conviction.
Acquittal of accused and reversal of successive conviction by lower courts.
In Prithipal Singh v. State of Punjab, Criminal Appeal No. 523-527 of 2009, the Supreme Court stated following:
“The time-honoured principle is that evidence has to be weighed and not counted. The test is whether the evidence has a ring of truth, is cogent, credible and trustworthy or otherwise. The legal system has laid emphasis on value, weight and quality of evidence, rather than on quantity, multiplicity or plurality of witnesses. It is, therefore, open to a competent court to fully and completely rely on a solitary witness and record conviction. Conversely, it may acquit the accused in spite of testimony of several witnesses if it is not satisfied about the quality of evidence.”
In Rai Sandeep @ Deepu vs State Of NCT Of Delhi, Criminal Appeal No. 2486 of 2009, the Supreme Court held following with regard to ‘Sterling Witness’:
“15. In our considered opinion, the ‘sterling witness’ should be of a very high quality and caliber whose version should, therefore, be unassailable. The Court considering the version of such witness should be in a position to accept it for its face value without any hesitation. To test the quality of such a witness, the status of the witness would be immaterial and what would be relevant is the truthfulness of the statement made by such a witness. What would be more relevant would be the consistency of the statement right from the starting point till the end, namely, at the time when the witness makes the initial statement and ultimately before the Court. It should be natural and consistent with the case of the prosecution qua the accused. There should not be any prevarication in the version of such a witness. The witness should be in a position to withstand the cross- examination of any length and howsoever strenuous it may be and under no circumstance should give room for any doubt as to the factum of the occurrence, the persons involved, as well as, the sequence of it. Such a version should have co-relation with each and everyone of other supporting material such as the recoveries made, the weapons used, the manner of offence committed, the scientific evidence and the expert opinion. The said version should consistently match with the version of every other witness. It can even be stated that it should be akin to the test applied in the case of circumstantial evidence where there should not be any missing link in the chain of circumstances to hold the accused guilty of the offence alleged against him. Only if the version of such a witness qualifies the above test as well as all other similar such tests to be applied, it can be held that such a witness can be called as a ‘sterling witness’ whose version can be accepted by the Court without any corroboration and based on which the guilty can be punished. To be more precise, the version of the said witness on the core spectrum of the crime should remain intact while all other attendant materials, namely, oral, documentary and material objects should match the said version in material particulars in order to enable the Court trying the offence to rely on the core version to sieve the other supporting materials for holding the offender guilty of the charge alleged.”
It can be appreciated that credible reliance on testimony of sole eye witness depends on facts and circumstances of the case and it cannot be generalised as rule. If the sole eye witness is ‘Sterling Witness’, the court is compelled to take such single eye witness account as evidence even without other corroborative evidence.
Advocate Bombay High Court