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A witness under cross-examination on oath should be given an opportunity to tender his explanation, if the documents are to be used against him: SC

The SC on Oct 26, 2020 {Raveen Kumar vs State of Himachal Pradesh} held that interference of an appellate Court against acquittal would be justified in case of patent errors of law, grave miscarriage of justice, or perverse findings of fact. 

It was further observed by the SC Bench, comprising of Justice N.V. RAMANA, Justice SURYA KANT & Justice HRISHIKESH ROY, that findings of fact recorded by a court can be held to be perverse if the findings have been arrived at by ignoring or excluding relevant material or by taking into consideration irrelevant/inadmissible material or if they are ‘against the weight of evidence’ or if they suffer from the ‘vice of irrationality’.

The question falling for consideration in present case before the SC was what is the extent of reliance upon a document with which the other side was not confronted   with   during   cross-­examination and whether non-examination of independent witnesses vitiates the prosecution case.

It was held that if admission is proved and if it is thereafter to be used against the   party   who   has   made   it   the   question   comes   within   the provisions of Section 145 of the Evidence Act. It was held that the provisions in the Indian Evidence Act that “admission is not conclusive proof” are to be considered in regard to two features of evidence. First, what weight is to be attached to an admission? In order to attach weight it   has   to   be   found   out   whether   the   admission   is   clear, unambiguous and is a relevant piece of evidence. Second, even if the admission is proved in accordance with the provisions of the Evidence Act and if it is to be used against the party who has made   it,   “it   is   sound   that   if   a   witness   is   under   cross-examination on oath, he should be given an opportunity, if the documents   are   to   be   used   against   him,   to   tender   his explanation and to clear up the point of ambiguity or dispute. This is a general salutary and intelligible rule”. Therefore, it was held that a mere proof of admission, after the person whose admission it is alleged to be has concluded his evidence, will be of no avail and cannot be utilised against him.

It was held that there is distinction between ‘replies’ submitted to the Court in some pending proceedings, as compared to the statements recorded by the police under Section 161 of CrPC. It was held that nevertheless, a Court should be overcautious   to   place   reliance   on   a   piece   of   evidence   with   which   the concerned witness has not been confronted despite an opportunity to do so. It was held that although there is no need to separately prove the court records emanating during trial but no legal presumption can be extended to the veracity of the contents of such documents. It was held that the reply filed in court proceedings, at best, can be treated as an admission; must   not   only   be   proved,   but   also   the   opposite   party   must   be confronted with it at the stage of cross examination.

It was held that the High Court has correctly noted in the present case that no opportunity   to   controvert   the   reply   document   was   given   to   the prosecution, nor was PW5 confronted with it. It was held that no weight can be accorded to such reply. 

It was held that it would be gainsaid that lack of independent witnesses are not fatal to the prosecution case. However, it was held that such omissions cast an added duty on Courts to adopt a greater­-degree of care while scrutinising the testimonies of the police officers, which if found reliable can form the basis of a successful conviction. 

It was concluded by the SC that since irrelevant material was impermissibly relied upon by the trial Court to arrive at an acquittal, the High Court was adequately justified to interfere with and reverse the findings.

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