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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 ha