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accomplice evidence

What is difference between approver and accomplice?

The difference between approver and accomplice is that approver is always an accomplice where as an accomplice is not necessarily an approver as an accomplice or co-accused becomes an approver after he has been tendered a pardon or granted concession on the condition that he will reveal the truth and will not hide anything in relation to offence or offences which he and other accused are alleged to have committed.



In Bhuboni Sahu v. The King the Privy Council after noticing s. 133 and illustration (b) to s. 114 of the Evidence Act observed that whilst it is not illegal to act on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice, it is a rule of prudence so universally followed as to amount almost to a rule of law that it is unsafe to act on the evidence of an accomplice unless it is corroborated in material respects so as to implicate the accused; and further that the evidence of one accomplice cannot be used to corroborate the evidence of another accomplice. The rule of prudence was based on the interpretation of the phrase "corroborated in material particulars" in illustration (b). Delivering the judgment of the Judicial Committee, Sir John Beaumont observed that the danger of acting on accomplice evidence is not merely that the accomplice is on his own admission a man of bad character who took part in the offence and afterwards to save himself betrayed his former associates, and who has placed himself in a position in which he can hardly fail to have a strong bias in favour of the prosecution the real danger is that he is telling a story which in its general outline is true, and it is easy for him to work into the story matter which is untrue. He may implicate ten people in an offence and the story may be true in all its details as to eight of them but untrue as to the other two whose names may have been introduced because they are enemies of the approver. The only real safeguard therefore against the risk of condemning the innocent with the guilty lies in insisting on independent evidence which in some measure implicates each accused.


Supreme Court of India

Rameshwar vs The State Of Rajasthan on 20 December, 1951

The first question is whether the law requires corroboration in these cases. Now the Evidence Act now here says so. On the other hand, when dealing with the testimony of an accomplice, though it says in section 114 (b) that the Court may presume that an accomplice is unworthy of credit unless he is corroborated in material particulars, it makes it clear in section 133 that-


"An accomplice shall be a competent witness against an accused person; and a conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice."


Now a woman who has been raped is not an accomplice. If she was ravished she is the victim of an outrage. If she consented there is no offence unless she is a married woman, in which case questions of adultery may arise. But adultery presupposes consent and so is not on the same footing as rape. In the case of a girl who is below the age of consent, her consent will not matter so far as the offence of rape is concerned, but if she consented her testimony will natural- ly be as suspect as that of an accomplice. So also in the case of unnatural offences. But in all these cases a large volume of case law has grown up which treats the evidence of the complainant somewhat along the same lines as accomplice evidence though often for widely differing reasons and the position now reached is that the rule about corroboration has hardened into one of law. But it is important to under- stand exactly what the rule is and what the expression "hardened into a rule of law" means.


In my judgment, this branch of the law is the same as in England and I am of opinion that the lucid exposition of it given by Lord Reading, the Lord Chief Justice of England, in The King v. Baskerville( [1916] 2 K.B, 658.) cannot be bettered. In that case, Baskerville had been convicted of having committed acts of gross indecency with the two boys. (There the boys were accomplices because they were freely consenting parties and there was no use of force). The learned Chief Justice says at page 663 :-


"There is no doubt that the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice is admissible in law...... But it has long been a rule of practice at common law for the judge to warn the jury of the danger of convicting a prisoner on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice or accomplices, and, in the discretion of the judge, to advise them not to convict upon such evidence; but the judge should point out to the jury that it is


within their legal province to convict upon such unconfirmed evidence......


This rule of practice has become virtually equivalent to a rule of law, and since the Court of Criminal Appeal came into operation this Court has held that, in the absence of such a warning by the judge, the conviction must be quashed...... If after the proper caution by the judge the jury nevertheless convict the prisoner, this Court will not quash the conviction merely upon the ground that the accom- plice's testimony was uncorroborated."


That, in my opinion, is exactly the law in India so far as accomplices are concerned and it is certainly not any higher in the case of sexual offences. The only clarifica- tion necessary for purposes of this country is where this class of offence is sometimes tried by a judge without the aid of a jury. In these cases it is necessary that the judge should give some indication in his judgment that he has had this rule of caution in mind and should proceed to give reasons for considering it unnecessary to require corroboration on the facts of the particular case before him and show why he considers it safe to convict without corrob- oration in that particular case. I am of opinion that the learned High Court Judges were wrong in thinking that they could not, as a matter of law, convict without corroboration.


Here, again, the rules are lucidly expounded by Lord Reading in Baskerville's case(1) at pages 664 to 669. It would be impossible. indeed it would be dangerous, to formulate the kind of evidence which should, or would, be regarded as corroboration. Its nature and extent must necessarily vary with circumstances of each case and also according to the particular circumstances of the offence charged. But to this extent the rules are clear. First, it is not necessary that there should be independent confirmation of every material circumstance in the sense that the independent evidence in the case, apart from the testimony of the complainant or the accomplice, should in itself be sufficient to sustain conviction. As Lord Reading says--


``Indeed, if it were required that the accomplice should be confirmed in every detail of the crime, his evidence would not be essential to the case, it would be merely confirmatory of other and independent testimony."


All that is required is that there must be "some addi- tional evidence rendering it probable that the story of the accomplice (or complainant) is true and that it is reasona- bly safe to act upon it."


Secondly, the independent evidence must not only make it safe to believe that the crime was committed but must in some way reasonably connect or tend to connect the accused with it by confirming in some material particular the testi- mony of the accomplice or complainant that the accused committed the crime. This does not mean that the corrobora- tion as to identity must extend to all the circumstances necessary to identify the accused with the offence. Again, all that is necessary is that there should be independent evidence which will make it reasonably safe to believe the witness's story that the accused was the one, or among those, who committed the offence. The reason for this part of the rule is that--


"a man who has been guilty of a crime himself will always be able to relate the facts of the case, and if the confirmation be only on the truth of that history, without identifying the persons, that is really no corroboration at all...It would not at all tend to show that the party ac- cused participated in it."


Thirdly, the corroboration must come from independent sources and thus ordinarily the testimony of one accomplice would not be sufficient to corroborate that of another. But of course the circumstances may be such as to make it safe to dispense with the necessity of corroboration and in those special circumstances a conviction so based would not be illegal. I say this because it was contended that the mother in this case was not an independent source.


Fourthly, the corroboration need not be direct evidence that the accused committed the crime. It is sufficient if it is merely circumstantial evidence of his connection with the crime. Were it otherwise, "many crimes which are usually committed between accomplices in secret, such as incest, offences with females" (or unnatural offences) "could never be brought to justice."


That the evidence is legally admissible as evidence of conduct is indisputable because of Illustration (j) to section 8 of the Evidence Act which is in these terms:


"The question is whether A was ravished. The facts that, shortly after the alleged rape, she made a complaint relating to the crime, the circumstances under which, and the terms in which, the complaint was made are relevant."


But that is not the whole problem. for we are concerned here not only with its legal admissibility and relevancy as to conduct but as to its admissibility for a particular purpose, namely corroboration. The answer to that is to be found in section 157 of the Evidence Act which lays down the law for India.


Section 157 states that---


"In order to corroborate the testimony of a witness, any former statement made by such witness relating to the same fact at or about the time when the fact took place, or before any authority legally competent to investigate the fact, may be proved."


The section makes no exceptions, therefore, provided the condition prescribed, that is to say, "at or about the time etc. ," are fulfilled there can be no doubt that such a statement is legally admissible in India as corroboration. The weight to be attached to it is, of course, another matter and it may be that in some cases the evidentiary value of two statements emanating from the same tainted source may not be high, but in view of section 118 its legal admissibility as corroboration cannot be questioned. To state this is, however, no more than to emphasise that there is no rule of thumb in these cases. When corroborative evidence is produced it also has to be weighed and in a given case, as with other evidence, even though it is legally admissible for the purpose on hand its weight may be nil. On the other hand, seeing that corrobo- ration is not essential to a conviction, conduct of this kind may be more than enough in itself to justify acceptance of the complainant's story. It all depends on the facts of the case.


Hari Charan Kurmi v. State of Bihar

Gajendragadkar, C.J., speaking for a five-Judge Bench observed that the testimony of an accomplice is evidence under s. 3 of the Evidence Act and has to be dealt with as such. The evidence is of a tainted character and as such is very weak; but, nevertheless, it is evidence and may be acted upon, subject to the requirement which has now become virtually a part of the law that it is corroborated in material particulars.


Supreme Court of India

State Of Tamil Nadu Etc.Perajmal ... vs Suresh (A-2) & Anr.State Of Tamil ... on 5 December, 1997

A Bench of three judges of this Court in Dagdu and ors. Vs. State of Maharashtra, [1977 (3) SCC 68] has laid down the legal position after making a survey of the case law by referring to Rameshwar vs. State of Rajasthan, [AIR 1952 SC 54] and a number of other decisions of this Court as well as of English courts. Chandrachud...] (as the learned Chief Justice then was) has stated for the three Judges Bench as follows:


"There is no antithesis between Section 133 and illustration (b) of section 114 of the Evidence Act, because the illustration only says that the Court 'may' presume a certain state of affairs. It does not seek to raise a conclusive and irrebuttable presumption. Reading the two together the position which emerges is that though an accomplice is a competent witness and though a conviction may lawfully rest upon his uncorroborated testimony, yet the Court is entitled to presume and may indeed be justified in presuming in the generality of cases that no reliance can be passed on the evidence of an accomplice unless that evidence is corroborated in material particulars, by which is meant that there has to be some independent evidence tending to incriminate the particular accused in the commission of the crime........All the same, it is necessary to understand that what has hardened into a rule of law is not hat the conviction is illegal if it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice but that the rule of corroboration must be present to the mind of the Judge and that corroboration may be dispensed with only if the peculiar circumstances of a case make it safe to dispense with it"


Supreme Court of India

Dagdu & Others Etc vs State Of Maharashtra on 19 April, 1977

Before considering that evidence, it would be necessary to state the legal position in regard to the evidence of accomplices and approvers. Section 133 of the Evidence Act lays down that an accomplice shall be a competent witness against an accused person; and a conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. Section 114 of the Evidence Act provides that the Court may presume the existence of any fact which it thinks likely to have happened, regard being had to the common course of natural events, human conduct and public and private business, in their relation to the facts of the particular case. Illustration (b) to s. 114 says that the Court may presume that an accomplice is unworthy of credit unless he is corroborated in material particulars. There is no. antithesis between s. 133 and illustration (b) to s.114 of the Evidence Act, because the illustration only says that the Court 'may' presume a certain state of affairs. It does not seek to raise a conclusive and irrebutable presumption. Reading the two together the position which emerges is that though an accomplice is a competent witness and though a conviction may lawfully rest upon his uncorroborated testimony, yet the Court is entitled to presume and may indeed be justified in presuming in the generality of cases that no reliance can be placed on the evidence of an accomplice unless that evidence is corroborated in material particulars, by which is meant that there has to be some independent evidence tending to incriminate, the particular accused in the commission of the crime. It is hazardous, as a matter of prudence, to proceed. upon the evidence of a self confessed criminal, who, in so far as an approver is concerned, has to testify in terms of the pardon tendered to him. The risk involved in convicting an accused on the testimony of an accomplice, unless it is corroborated in material particulars, is so real and potent that what during the early development of law was felt to be a matter of prudence has been elevated by judicial experience into a requirement or rule of law. All the same, it is necessary to understand that what has hardened into a rule of law is not that the conviction is illegal if it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice but that the rule of corroboration must be present to the mind of the Judge and that corroboration may be dispensed with only if the peculiar circumstances of a case make it safe to dispense with it.



022a. Accomplice Evidence
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