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CHILD WITNESS TESTIMONY

In Prakash & Anr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh, (1992) 4 SCC 225, the fourteen year old minor was the brother of the deceased. The minor Ajay Singh was stated as an eye witness to the crime. The Trial Court discarded the evidence of the minor Ajay Singh, being influenced by the fact that he was of tender of age and that he was likely to be tutored. The Supreme Court did not accept this reasoning of the Trial Court. The Supreme Court observed:

―11. ... ... In discarding the evidence of the brother of the deceased namely Ajay Singh the learned Additional Sessions Judge was influenced by the tender age of Ajay (about 14 years) and was of the view that he was likely to be tutored. We do not think that a boy of about 14 years of age cannot give a proper account of the murder of his brother if he has an occasion to witness the same and simply because the witness was a boy of 14 years it will not be proper to assume that he is likely to be tutored. The High Court has given very convincing reasons for accepting the evidence of Ajay Singh as an eyewitness of the murderous act and we do not find any infirmity in the finding made by the High Court ... ...‖. (emphasis supplied)

Thus, it cannot be assumed that a witness who is a minor is tutored. There should be evidence/ material on record to conclude that a child witness has been tutored. At the same time, the Court has to be satisfied that there is no likelihood of the child witness being tutored.

In Ratansinh Dalsukhbhai Nayak v. State of Gujarat, (2004) 1 SCC 64, the child was an eye witness to the murder of the two deceased persons. Relying on the testimony of the child witness, the Trial Court convicted the accused under Section 302 IPC and, accordingly, sentenced them. Before the Supreme Court, the appellant placed reliance on Arbind Singh v. State of Bihar, 1995 (4) SCC 416 to contend that where the Court finds traces of tutoring, corroboration is a must before the evidence of the child witness could be acted upon. The Supreme Court referred to Dattu Ramrao Sakhare v. State of Maharashtra, (1997) 5 SCC 341, wherein it had been held:

―A child witness if found competent to depose to the facts and reliable one such evidence could form the basis of conviction. In other words even in the absence of oath the evidence of a child witness can be considered under Section 118 of the Evidence Act provided that such witness is able to understand the questions and able to give rational answers thereof. The evidence of a child witness and credibility thereof would depend upon the circumstances of each case. The only precaution which the court should bear in mind while assessing the evidence of a child witness is that the witness must be a reliable one and his/her demeanour must be like any other competent witness and there is no likelihood of being tutored.‖ (emphasis supplied)

The Supreme Court went on to observe:

―The decision on the question whether the child witness has sufficient intelligence primarily rests with the trial Judge who notices his manners, his apparent possession or lack of intelligence, and the said Judge may resort to any examination which will tend to disclose his capacity and intelligence as well as his understanding of the obligation of an oath. The decision of the trial court may, however, be disturbed by the higher court if from what is preserved in the records, it is clear that his conclusion was erroneous. This precaution is necessary because child witnesses are amenable to tutoring and often live in a world of make-believe. Though it is an established principle that child witnesses are dangerous witnesses as they are pliable and liable to be influenced easily, shaped and moulded, but it is also an accepted norm that if after careful scrutiny of their evidence the court comes to the conclusion that there is an impress of truth in it, there is no obstacle in the way of accepting the evidence of a child witness‖. (emphasis supplied)

While dealing with the merits of the case before it, the Supreme Court held that there was no reason for false implication by the child witness. The Trial Court on careful examination was satisfied about the child's capacity to understand and to give rational answers. That being the position, it cannot be said that the child witness had no maturity to understand the import of the questions put to her, or to give rational answers. The child witness had been cross- examined at length and she stood her ground. The Supreme Court held that the evidence of the child witness was credible, which revealed her truthful approach and that her evidence had the ring of the truth. Consequently, the Supreme Court accepted the said evidence of the child witness and dismissed the appeal.

In State of Madhya Pradesh v. Ramesh & Anr., 2011 (3) Scale 619, the daughter of the deceased, aged about eight years, was a witness to the crime. On the basis of the statement of the child witness, the two accused were convicted under Section 302 IPC. Accused no.2 was convicted with the aid of Section 120B IPC. The High Court, however, reversed the said judgment and acquitted the accused on the premise that the eye witness PW-1 was a child witness and was, therefore, disbelieved. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the High Court and restored the conviction of the accused. On the aspect of admissibility of the evidence of a child witness, the Supreme Court referred to several earlier decisions. The relevant passage from this decision of the Supreme Court being instructed, is reproduced herein below:

In Rameshwar S/o Kalyan Singh v. The State of Rajasthan, AIR 1952 SC 54, this Court examined the provisions of Section 5 of Indian Oaths Act, 1873 and Section 118 of Evidence Act, 1872 and held that every witness is competent to depose unless the court considers that he is prevented from understanding the question put to him, or from giving rational answers by reason of tender age, extreme old age, disease whether of body or mind or any other cause of the same kind. There is always competency in fact unless the Court considers otherwise.

The Court further held as under:

―.....It is desirable that Judges and magistrates should always record their opinion that the child understands the duty of speaking the truth and state why they think that, otherwise the credibility of the witness may be seriously affected, so much so, that in some cases it may be necessary to reject the evidence altogether. But whether the Magistrate or Judge really was of that opinion can, I think, be gathered from the circumstances when there is no formal certificate....‖

In Mangoo & Anr. v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1995 SC 959, this Court while dealing with the evidence of a child witness observed that there was always scope to tutor the child, however, it cannot alone be a ground to come to the conclusion that the child witness must have been tutored. The Court must determine as to whether the child has been tutored or not. It can be ascertained by examining the evidence and from the contents thereof as to whether there are any traces of tutoring.

In Panchhi & Ors. v. State of U.P., AIR 1998 SC 2726, this Court while placing reliance upon a large number of its earlier judgments observed that the testimony of a child witness must find adequate corroboration before it is relied on. However, it is more a rule of practical wisdom than of law. It cannot be held that "the evidence of a child witness would always stand irretrievably stigmatized. It is not the law that if a witness is a child, his evidence shall be rejected, even if it is found reliable. The law is that evidence of a child witness must be evaluated more carefully and with greater circumspection because a child is susceptible to be swayed by what others tell him and thus a child witness is an easy prey to tutoring.‖

In Nivrutti Pandurang Kokate & Ors. v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 2008 SC 1460, this Court dealing with the child witness has observed as under: ―The decision on the question whether the child witness has sufficient intelligence primarily rests with the trial Judge who notices his manners, his apparent possession or lack of intelligence, and the said Judge may resort to any examination which will tend to disclose his capacity and intelligence as well as his understanding of the obligation of an oath. The decision of the trial court may, however, be disturbed by the higher court if from what is preserved in the records, it is clear that his conclusion was erroneous. This precaution is necessary because child witnesses are amenable to tutoring and often live in a world of make-believe. Though it is an established principle that child witnesses are dangerous witnesses as they are pliable and liable to be influenced easily, shaped and moulded, but it is also an accepted norm that if after careful scrutiny of their evidence the court comes to the conclusion that there is an impress of truth in it, there is no obstacle in the way of accepting the evidence of a child witness.‖

The evidence of a child must reveal that he was able to discern between right and wrong and the court may find out from the cross examination whether the defence lawyer could bring anything to indicate that the child could not differentiate between right and wrong. The court may ascertain his suitability as a witness by putting questions to him and even if no such questions had been put, it may be gathered from his evidence as to whether he fully understood the implications of what he was saying and whether he stood discredited in facing a stiff cross-examination. A child witness must be able to understand the sanctity of giving evidence on a oath and the import of the questions that were being put to him. (Vide: Himmat Sukhadeo Wahurwagh & Ors. v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 2009 SC 2292).

In State of U.P. v. Krishna Master & Ors., AIR 2010 SC 3071, this Court held that there is no principle of law that it is inconceivable that a child of tender age would not be able to recapitulate the facts in his memory. A child is always receptive to abnormal events which take place in his life and would never forget those events for the rest of his life. The child may be able to recapitulate carefully and exactly when asked about the same in the future. In case the child explains the relevant events of the crime without improvements or embellishments, and the same inspire confidence of the Court, his deposition does not require any corroboration whatsoever. The child at a tender age is incapable of having any malice or ill will against any person. Therefore, there must be something on record to satisfy the Court that something had gone wrong between the date of incident and recording evidence of the child witness due to which the witness wanted to implicate the accused falsely in a case of a serious nature.

Part of the statement of a child witness, even if tutored, can be relied upon, if the tutored part can be separated from untutored part, in case such remaining untutored part inspires confidence. In such an eventuality the untutored part can be believed or at least taken into consideration for the purpose of corroboration as in the case of a hostile witness. (Vide: Gagan Kanojia & Anr. v. State of Punjab, (2006) 13 SCC 516)‖. (emphasis supplied)

The Supreme Court, in view of the aforesaid legal position, summarized the law in the following words:

―13. In view of the above, the law on the issue can be summarized to the effect that the deposition of a child witness may require corroboration, but in case his deposition inspires the confidence of the court and there is no embellishment or improvement therein, the court may rely upon his evidence. The evidence of a child witness must be evaluated more carefully with greater circumspection because he is susceptible to tutoring. Only in case there is evidence on record to show that a child has been tutored, the Court can reject his statement partly or fully. However, an inference as to whether child has been tutored or not, can be drawn from the contents of his deposition‖. (emphasis supplied)

Thus, the deposition of a child witness may require corroboration, but in case his deposition inspires the confidence of the court and there is no embellishment or improvement therein, the Court may rely upon his evidence. Evaluation of the evidence of a child witness requires more care and greater circumspection, because he is susceptible to tutoring. Only in case there is evidence on record to show that the child has been tutored, the Court may reject his statement partly or fully. An inference as to whether the child has been tutored or not, can be drawn from the content of his deposition.‖



024. CHILD WITNESS TESTIMONY
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