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opinion of expert

Supreme Court of India

Dayal Singh & Ors vs State Of Uttaranchal on 3 August, 2012

The possibility of some variations in the exhibits, medical and ocular evidence cannot be ruled out. But it is not that every minor variation or inconsistency would tilt the balance of justice in favour the accused. Of course, where contradictions and variations are of a serious nature, which apparently or impliedly are destructive of the substantive case sought to be proved by the prosecution, they may provide an advantage to the accused. The Courts, normally, look at expert evidence with a greater sense of acceptability, but it is equally true that the courts are not absolutely guided by the report of the experts, especially if such reports are perfunctory, unsustainable and are the result of a deliberate attempt to misdirect the prosecution.

In Kamaljit Singh v. State of Punjab [2004 Cri.LJ 28], the Court, while dealing with discrepancies between ocular and medical evidence, held, “It is trite law that minor variations between medical evidence and ocular evidence do not take away the primacy of the latter. Unless medical evidence in its term goes so far as to completely rule out all possibilities whatsoever of injuries taking place in the manner stated by the eyewitnesses, the testimony of the eyewitnesses cannot be thrown out.”

Where the eye witness account is found credible and trustworthy, medical opinion pointing to alternative possibilities may not be accepted as conclusive. The expert witness is expected to put before the Court all materials inclusive of the data which induced him to come to the conclusion and enlighten the court on the technical aspect of the case by examining the terms of science, so that the court, although not an expert, may form its own judgment on those materials after giving due regard to the expert’s opinion, because once the expert opinion is accepted, it is not the opinion of the medical officer but that of the Court. {Plz. See Madan Gopal Kakad v. Naval Dubey & Anr. [(1992) 2 SCR 921 : (1992) 3 SCC 204]}.

“The essential principle governing expert evidence is that the expert is not only to provide reasons to support his opinion but the result should be directly demonstrable. The court is not to surrender its own judgment to that of the expert or delegate its authority to a third party, but should assess his evidence like any other evidence. If the report of an expert is slipshod, inadequate or cryptic and the information of similarities or dissimilarities is not available in his report and his evidence in the case, then his opinion is of no use. It is required of an expert whether a government expert or private, if he expects, his opinion to be accepted to put before the court the material which induces him to come to his conclusion so that the court though not an expert, may form its own judgment on that material. If the expert in his evidence as a witness does not place the whole lot of similarities or dissimilarities, etc., which influence his mind to lead him to a particular conclusion which he states in the court then he fails in his duty to take the court into confidence. The court is not to believe the ipse dixit of an expert. Indeed the value of the expert evidence consists mainly on the ability of the witness by reason of his special training and experience to point out the court such important facts as it otherwise might fail to observe and in so doing the court is enabled to exercise its own view or judgment respecting the cogency of reasons and the consequent value of the conclusions formed thereon. The opinion is required to be presented in a convenient manner and the reasons for a conclusion based on certain visible evidence, properly placed before the Court. In other words the value of expert evidence depends largely on the cogency of reasons on which it is based.” [See: Forensic Science in Criminal Investigation & Trial (Fourth Edition) by B.R. Sharma]


The Indian law on Expert Evidence does not proceed on any significantly different footing. The skill and experience of an expert is the ethos of his opinion, which itself should be reasoned and convincing.


We really need not reiterate various judgments which have taken the view that the purpose of an expert opinion is primarily to assist the Court in arriving at a final conclusion. Such report is not binding upon the Court. The Court is expected to analyse the report, read it in conjunction with the other evidence on record and then form its final opinion as to whether such report is worthy of reliance or not. Just to illustrate this point of view, in a given case, there may be two diametrically contradictory opinions of handwriting experts and both the opinions may be well reasoned. In such case, the Court has to critically examine the basis, reasoning, approach and experience of the expert to come to a conclusion as to which of the two reports can be safely relied upon by the Court. The assistance and value of expert opinion is indisputable, but there can be reports which are, ex facie, incorrect or deliberately so distorted as to render the entire prosecution case unbelievable. But if such eye-witnesses and other prosecution evidence are trustworthy, have credence and are consistent with the eye version given by the eye-witnesses, the Court will be well within its jurisdiction to discard the expert opinion. An expert report, duly proved, has its evidentiary value but such appreciation has to be within the limitations prescribed and with careful examination by the Court. A complete contradiction or inconsistency between the medical evidence and the ocular evidence on the one hand and the statement of the prosecution witnesses between themselves on the other, may result in seriously denting the case of the prosecution in its entirety but not otherwise.


Having analyzed and discussed in some elaboration various aspects of this case, we pass the following orders:


A) The appeal is dismissed both on merits and on quantum of sentence.


B) The Director Generals, Health Services of UP/Uttarakhand are hereby issued notice under the provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 as to why appropriate action be not initiated against them for not complying with the directions contained in the judgment of the Trial Court dated 29th June, 1990.


C) The above-said officials are hereby directed to take disciplinary action against Dr. C.N. Tewari, PW3, whether he is in service or has since retired, for deliberate dereliction of duty, preparing a report which ex facie was incorrect and was in conflict with the inquest report (Exhibits Ka-6 and Ka-7) and statement of PW6. The bar on limitation, if any, under the Rules will not come into play because they were directed by the order dated 29th June, 1990 of the Court to do so. The action even for stoppage/reduction in pension can appropriately be taken by the said authorities against Dr. C.N. Tewari.


D) Director Generals of Police UP/Uttarakhand are hereby directed to initiate, and expeditiously complete, disciplinary proceedings against PW6, SI Kartar Singh, whether he is in service or has since retired, for the acts of omission and commission, deliberate dereliction of duty in not mentioning reasons for non-disclosure of cause of death as explained by the doctor, not sending the viscera to the FSL and for conducting the investigation of this case in a most callous and irresponsible manner. The question of limitation, if any, under the Rules, would not apply as it is by direction of the Court that such enquiry shall be conducted.


E) We hold, declare and direct that it shall be appropriate exercise of jurisdiction as well as ensuring just and fair investigation and trial that courts return a specific finding in such cases, upon recording of reasons as to deliberate dereliction of duty, designedly defective investigation, intentional acts of omission and commission prejudicial to the case of the prosecution, in breach of professional standards and investigative requirements of law, during the course of the investigation by the investigating agency, expert witnesses and even the witnesses cited by the prosecution. Further, the Courts would be fully justified in directing the disciplinary authorities to take appropriate disciplinary or other action in accordance with law, whether such officer, expert or employee witness, is in service or has since retired.


Supreme Court of India

Madan Gopal Kakkad vs Naval Dubey And Anr on 29 April, 1992

A medical witness called in as an expert to assist the Court is not a witness of fact and the evidence given by the medical officer is really of an advisory character given on the basis of the symptoms found on examination. The expert witness is expected to put before the Court all materials inclusive of the data which induced him to come to the conclusion and enlighten the Court on the technical aspect of the case by explaining the terms of science so that the Court although, not an expert may form its own judgment on those materials after giving due regard to the expert's opinion because once the expert's opinion is accepted, it is not the opinion of the medical officer but of the Court.



Supreme Court of India

Piara Singh & Ors vs State Of Punjab on 4 October, 1977

where the opinion of a medical witness is contradicted by another medical witness both of whom are equally competent to form an opinion the opinion of that expert should be accepted which supports the direct evidence in the case.


Rajesh v. State of Haryana, Criminal Appeal No. 1648 of 2019, decided on 03.11.2020

The failure of the prosecution in a given case, to examine a ballistics expert has to be assessed bearing in mind the overall context of the nature of the evidence which is available. When direct evidence of an unimpeachable character is available and the nature of injuries is consistent with the direct evidence, the examination of a ballistics expert need not be insisted upon as a condition to the prosecution proving its case. On the other hand, where direct evidence is not available or there is doubt in regard to the nature of that evidence, the failure to examine the ballistic examiner would assume significance.


Supreme Court of India

State Of Gujarat vs Vinaya Chandra Chhota Lal Patni on 5 September, 1966

A Court is competent to compare the disputed writing of a person with others which are admitted or proved to be his writings. It may not be safe for a Court to record a finding about a person's writing in a certain document merely on the basis of comparison, but a Court can itself compare the writings in order to appreciate properly the other evidence produced before it in that regard. The opinion of a handwriting expert is also relevant in view of s. 45 of the Evidence Act, but that too is not conclusive. It has also been held that the sole evidence of a handwriting expert is not normally sufficient 'or recording a definite finding about the writing being of a certain person or not.It follows that it is not essential that the handwriting expert must be examined in a case to prove or disprove the disputed writing. It was therefore not right for the learned Judge to consider it unsafe to rely upon the evidence of the complainant in a case like this, i.e., in a case in which no handwriting expert had been examined in support of his statement.


NON - MENTIONING OF NAMES IN INJURY CERTIFICATE NOT MATERIAL :

Supreme Court of India

P. Babu And Ors. vs State Of A.P. on 1 October, 1993

P.W. 1 is a young doctor and a highly independent witness. There is no reason whatsoever for him to speak falsehood. The recording of Ex. P.1 by P.W. 1 is not in dispute. P.W. 1 has clearly stated that the injured gave the said statement and he duly recorded it and obtained his thumb impression. P.W. 10, the Casualty Medical Officer who examined the injured and admitted him, asserted that Ex.P. 1 was recorded by P.W. 1 as per his instructions. P. W. 10 also deposed that he asked the Inspector to secure the presence of the Magistrate but he was told that the Magistrate was not available. Therefore the Circle Inspector requested him to record the dying declaration. He, however, asked P.W. 1 to record the same. P.W. 10's evidence shows that he was present when the dying declaration was being recorded by P.W. 1 and that the patient was fully conscious when the dying declaration was recorded. P.W. 10 further deposed that after the statement was recorded, he verified it and the same was read over to the victim who affirmed the same to be correct and therefore his thumb impression was taken. P.W. 10 was cross-examined at length. In the first instance he was cross-examined about the availability of the Magistrate and the time taken to get the information that the Magistrate was not available. Then he was cross-examined with reference to actual recording. P.W. 10 asserted in the cross-examination that he asked P.W. 1 to record and he himself had gone through the entire dying declaration recorded by P.W. 1. P.W. 10 also stated that they noted in the accident register that the dying declaration was recorded. Ex.P. 6 is the injury certificate. It appears that it was noted in Ex.P. 6 against an entry that the injured was said to have been stabbed by somebody. Placing much reliance on this entry, P.W. 10 was asked in the cross-examination as to how it was made. P.W. 10 stated that the deceased stated so in the first instance. The learned counsel relying on this admission sought to contend that the deceased was not aware as to who stabbed him. We see no force in this submission. It is a matter of common knowledge that such entry in the injury certificate does not necessarily amount to a statement. At that stage the doctor was required to fill up that column in a normal manner and it was not the duty of the doctor to enquired from the injured patient about the actual assailants and that the inquiry would be confined as to how he received the injuries namely the weapons used etc. It is next submitted that the condition of the injured was very serious and therefore it is highly doubtful whether he would have been in a position to make the statement. In support of this submission, the learned counsel relied on the evidence of P.W. 20 and also P.W. 9 another doctor, who conducted the post-mortem. P.W. 20 deposed that he found that the condition of the injured was serious and that the Magistrate should be informed for recording the dying declaration. Relying on this admission made by P.W. 20, the learned counsel contended that the condition of the injured was serious and therefore it would not have been possible to record the dying declaration. The other submission is that since P.W. 20 made an entry that the Magistrate should be informed, it becomes doubtful that Ex.P. 1 was already recorded and if, in fact, the same was already recorded, P.W. 20 would not have made such an entry. We do not find any substance in this submission. P.W. 20 does not say that he enquired P.W. 10 whether any dying declaration was recorded already. Further, the accident register itself reveals that P.W. 10 has already made an entry in the relevant column that the dying declaration was recorded. Therefore the entry made by P.W. 20 that he visited the hospital at about 9 P.M. would not in any manner affect the veracity of the evidence of P.Ws. 1 and 10 who are respectable doctOrs.


Supreme Court of India

Punjab Singh vs State Of Haryana on 15 March, 1984

that if direct evidence is satisfactory and reliable the same cannot be rejected on 'hypothetical medical evidence.


Madhya Pradesh High Court

Shatrughan And Anr. vs State Of Madhya Pradesh on 7 January, 1992

In the present case the unexhibited report of the Chemical Examiner did not in fact require to be formally proved by any witness. It was a document which proved itself under Section 293, Cr. P.C. and should have been exhibited even if it was not referred to in the deposition of any witness. That report stood on an obviously better footing than an unproved FIR. The defence could be legitimately allowed to make use of it. When so considered, it militates against the prosecution story about any sexual intercourse having taken place with the prosecutrix.


Supreme Court of India

Gurcharan Singh vs State Of Punjab on 10 August, 1962

It has, however, been argued that in every case where an accused person is charged with having committed the offence of murder by a lethal weapon, it is the duty of the prosecution to prove by expert evidence that it was likely or at least possible for the injuries to have been caused with the weapon with which, and in the manner in which, they have been alleged to have been caused; and in support of this proposition, reliance has been placed on the decision of this court in Mohinder Sinqh v. The State ((1950) S.C.R. 821). In that case, this court has held that where the prosecution case was that the accused shot the deceased with a gun, but it appeared likely that the injuries on the deceased were inflicted by a rifle and there was no evidence of a duly qualified expert to prove that the injuries were caused by a gun, and the nature of the injuries was also such that the photo must have been fired by more than one person and not by one person only, and there was no evidence to show that another person also shot, and the oral evidence was such which was not disinterested, the failure to examine an expert would be a serious infirmity in the prosecution case. It would be noticed that these observation were made in a case where the prosecution . evidence suffered from serious infirmities and in determining the effect of 'these observations, it would not be fair or reasonable to forget the facts in respect of which they came to be made. These observations do not purport to lay down an inflexible rule that in every case where an accused person is charged with murder caused by a lethal weapon, the prosecution case can succeed in proving the charge only if an expert is examined. It is possible to imagine cases where the direct evidence is of such an unimpeachable character and the nature of the injuries disclosed by post mortem notes is so clearly consistent with the direct evidence that the examination of a ballistic expert may not be regarded as essential. Where the direct evidence is not satisfactory or disinterested or where the injuries are alleged to have been caused with a gun and they prima facie appear to have been inflicted by a rifle, undoubtedly the apparent inconsistency can be cured or the oral evidence can be corroborated by leading the evidence of a ballistic expert. In what cases the examination of a ballistic expert is essential for the proof of the prosecution case, must naturally depend upon the circumstances of each case. Therefore, we do not think that Mr. Purushotam is right in contending as a general proposition that in every case where a fire-arm is alleged to have been used by an accused person, in addition to the direct evidence, prosecution must lead the evidence of a ballistic expert, however good the direct evidence may be and though on the record there may be no reason to doubt the said direct evidence.


Supreme Court of India

Amar Singh And Ors. vs State Of Punjab on 17 February, 1987

Moreover, the medical report shows that there was no injury on the ribs and abdomen of the deceased. We are unable to accept the evidence of P.W. 5 that although a number of blows were given by the accused with their weapons on the ribs and abdomen of deceased, yet such blows did not produce any mark of injury. The medical report submitted by P.W. 2 shows that there were only contusions, abrasions and fractures, but there was no incised wound on the left knee of the deceased as alleged by P.W. 5. If her evidence that all the accused inflicted injuries on the deceased with their respective weapons, has to be accepted, then there would be incised wounds all over the body of the deceased, but the medical report shows that not a single incised wound was found on the body of the deceased. Thus the evidence of P.W. 5. is totally inconsistent with the medical evidence. This Court in Ram Naraln v State of Punjab ATR (1975) SC 1727 has laid down that if the evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution is totally inconsistent with the medical evidence, this is a most fundamental defect in the prosecution case and unless reasonably explained, it is sufficient to discredit the entire case. There is no explanation for the apparent total inconsistency between the evidence of P.W. 5 and the medical evidence.

Supreme Court of India


State Of Maharashtra Etc. Etc vs Sukhdeo Singh And Anr. Etc. Etc on 15 July, 1992

It is well settled that evidence regarding the identity of the author of any document can be tendered (i) by examining the person who is conversant and familiar with the handwriting of such person or (ii) through the testimony of an expert who is qualified and competent to make a comparison of the disputed writing and the admitted writing on a scientific basis and (iii) by the court comparing the disputed document with the admitted one.

But since the science of identification of handwriting by comparison is not an infallible one, prudence demands that before acting on such opinion the Court should be fully satisfied about the authorship of the admitted writings which is made the sole basis for comparison and the Court should also be fully satisfied about the competence and credibility of the handwriting expert. It is indeed true that by nature and habit, over a period of time, each individual develops certain traits which give a distinct character to his writings making it possible to identify the author but it must at the same time be realised that since handwriting experts are generally engaged by one of the contesting parties they, consciously or unconsciously, tend to lean in favour of an opinion which is helpful to the party engaging him. That is why we come across cases of conflicting opinions given by two handwriting experts engaged by opposite parties. It is, therefore, necessary to exercise extra care and caution in evaluating their opinion before accepting the same. So courts have as a rule of prudence refused to place implicit faith on the opinion evidence of a handwriting expert. Normally courts have considered it dangerous to base a conviction solely on the testimony of a handwriting expert because such evidence is not regarded as conclusive. Since such opinion evidence cannot take the place of substantive evidence, courts have, as a rule of prudence, looked for corroboration before acting on such evidence. True it is, there is no rule of law that the evidence of a handwriting expert cannot be acted upon unless substantially corroborated but courts have been slow in placing implicit reliance on such opinion evidence, without more, because of the imperfect nature of the science of identification of handwriting and its accepted fallibility. There is no absolute rule of law or even of prudence which has ripened into a rule of law that in no case can the court base its findings solely on the opinion of a handwriting expert but the imperfect and frail nature of the science of identification of the author by comparison of his admitted handwriting with the disputed ones has placed a heavy responsibility on the courts to exercise extra care and caution before acting on such opinion. Before a court can place reliance on the opinion of an expert, it must be shown that he has not betrayed any bias and the reasons on which he has based his opinion are convincing and satisfactory. It is for this reason that the courts are wary to act solely on the evidence of a handwriting expert; that, however, does not mean that even if there exist numerous striking peculiarities and mannerisms which stand out to identify the writer, the court will not act on the expert's evidence. In the end it all depends on the character of the evidence of the expert and the facts and circumstances of each case.


In Ram Narain v. State of U.P., [1973] 2 SCC 86 this Court was called upon to consider whether a conviction based on uncorroborated testimony of the handwriting expert could be sustained. This Court held:


"It is no doubt true that the opinion of handwriting expert given in evidence is no less fallible than any other expert opinion adduced in evidence with the result that such evidence has to be received with great caution. But this opinion evidence, which is relevant, may be worthy of acceptance if there is internal or external evidence relating to the document in question supporting the view expressed by the expert." A similar view was expressed in the case of Bhagwan Kaur v. Maharaj Krishan Sharma, [1973] 4 SCC 46 in the following words:


"The evidence of a handwriting expert, unlike that of a fingerprint expert, is generally of a frail character and its fallibilities have been quite often noticed. The courts should, therefore, by wary to give too much weight to the evidence of a handwriting expert."


In Murari Lal v. State of M.P., [1980] 1 SCC 704 this Court was once again called upon to examine whether the opinion evidence of a handwriting expert needs to be substantially corroborated before it can be acted upon to base a conviction. Dealing with this oft repeated submission this Court pointed out:


"Expert testimony is made relevant by Section 45 of the Evidence Act and where the Court has to form an opinion upon a point as to identity of handwriting, the opinion of a person `specially skilled' `in questions as to identity of handwriting' is expressly made a relevant fact. There is nothing in the Evidence Act, as for example like illustration (b) to Section 114 which entitles the Court to presume that an accomplice is unworthy of credit, unless he is corroborated in material particulars, which justifies the court in assuming that a handwriting expert's opinion in unworthy of credit unless corroborated. The Evidence Act itself (Section 3) tells us that `a fact is said to be proved when, after considering the matters before it, the Court either believes it to exist or considers its existence so probable that a prudent man ought, under the circumstances of the particular case, to act upon the supposition that it exists'. It is necessary to occasionally remind ourselves of this interpretation clause in the Evidence Act lest we set an artificial standard of proof not warranted by the provisions of the Act. Further, under Section 114 of the Evidence Act, 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 facts of the particular case. It is also to be noticed that Section 46 of the Evidence Act makes facts, not otherwise relevant, relevant if they support or are inconsistent with the opinions of experts, when such opinions are relevant. So, corroboration may not invariably be insisted upon before acting on the opinion of an handwriting expert and there need be no initial suspicion. But, on the facts of a particular case, a court may require corroboration of a varying degree. There can be no hard and fast rule, but nothing will justify the rejection of the opinion of an expert supported by unchallenged reasons on the sole ground that it is not corroborated. The approach of a court while dealing with the opinion of a handwriting expert should be to proceed cautiously, probe the reasons for the opinion, consider all other relevant evidence and decide finally to accept or reject it."


After examining the case law this Court proceed to add: "We are firmly of the opinion that there is no rule of law, nor any rule of prudence which has crystallised into a rule of law, that opinion- evidence of a handwriting expert must never be acted upon, unless substantially corroborated. But, having due regard to the imperfect nature of the science of identification of handwriting, the approach, as we indicated earlier, should be one of caution. Reasons for the opinion must be carefully probed and examined. All other relevant evidence must be considered. In appropriate cases, corroboration may be sought. In cases where the reasons for the opinion are convincing and there is no reliable evidence throwing a doubt, the uncorroborated testimony of an handwriting expert may be accepted. There cannot be any inflexible rule on a matter which, in the ultimate analysis, is no more than a question of testimonial weight."


What emerges from the case law referred to above is that handwriting expert is a competent witness whose opinion evidence is recognised as relevant under the provisions of the Evidence Act and has not been equated to the class of evidence of an accomplice. It would, therefore, not be fair to approach the opinion evidence with suspicion but the correct approach would be to weigh the reasons on which it is based. The quality of his opinion would depend on the soundness of the reasons on which it is founded. But the court cannot afford to overlook the fact that the science of identification of handwriting is an imperfect and frail one as compared to the science of identification of finger- prints; courts have, therefore, been wary in placing implicit reliance on such opinion evidence and have looked for corroboration but that is not to say that it is a rule of prudence of general application regardless of the circumstances of the case and the quality of expert evidence. No hard and fast rule can be laid down in this behalf but the Court has to decide in each case of its own merits what weight it should attach to the opinion of the expert.


It was then submitted, relying on section 73 of the Evidence Act, that we should compare the disputed material with the specimen/admitted material on record and reach our own conclusion. There is no doubt that the said provision empowers the court to see for itself whether on a comparison of the two sets of writing/signature, it can safely be concluded with the assistance of the expert opinion that the disputed writings are in the handwriting of the accused as alleged. For this purpose we were shown the enlarged copies of the two sets of writings but we are afraid we did not consider it advisable to venture a conclusion based on such comparison having regard to the state of evidence on record in regard to the specimen/admitted writings of the accused Nos.1 and 2. Although the section specifically empowers the court to compare the disputed writings with the specimen/admitted writings shown to be genuine, prudence demands that the Court should be extremely slow in venturing an opinion on the basis of mere comparison, more so, when the quality of evidence in respect of specimen/admitted writings is not of high standard. We have already pointed out the state of evidence as regards the specimen/admitted writings earlier and we think it would be dangerous to stake any opinion on the basis of mere comparison. We have, therefore, refrained from basing our conclusion by comparing the disputed writings with the specimen/admitted writings.



Supreme Court of India

Murari Lal S/O Ram Singh vs State Of Madhya Pradesh on 21 November, 1979


The two vital circumstances against Murari Lal were: (1) the recovery of a wrist-watch which belonged to the deceased Sonawala and (2) the writing in Hindi at page G of Ex. P. 9, which was found to be in his handwriting indicating his presence in the house of the deceased on the night of the murder and his participation in the commission of the offences. Shri R. C. Kohli, learned counsel for the appellant, argued that the recovery of the wrist-watch was too remote in point of time to connect the appellant with the crime. He further argued that the High Court fell into a grave error in concluding that the writing at page G of Ex. P. 9 was that of the appellant. He submitted that the evidence of P.W. 8 who claimed to be familiar with the handwriting of the appellant was wholly unacceptable, that it was not permissible in law to act upon the uncorroborated opinion-evidence of the expert P.W. 15 and that the High Court fell into a serious error in attempting to compare the writing in Ex. P. 9 with the admitted writing of the appellant.


We will first consider the argument, a stale argument often heard, particularly in criminal courts, that the opinion-evidence of a handwriting expert should not be acted upon without substantial corroboration. We shall presently point out how the argument cannot be justified on principle or precedent. We begin with observation that the expert is no accomplice. There is no justification for condemning his opinion-evidence to the same class of evidence as that of an accomplice and insist upon corroboration. True, it has occasionally been said on very high authority that it would be hazardous to base a conviction solely on the opinion of a handwriting expert. But, the hazard in accepting the opinion of any expert, handwriting expert or any other kind of expert, is not because experts, in general, are unreliable witnesses-the quality of credibility or incredibility being one which an expert shares with all other witnesses-, but because all human judgment is fallible and an expert may go wrong because of some defect of observation, some error of premises or honest mistake of conclusion. The more developed and the more perfect a science, the less the chance of an incorrect opinion and the converse if the science is less developed and imperfect. The science of identification of finger-prints has attained near perfection and the risk of an incorrect opinion is practically non-existent. On the other hand, the science of identification of handwriting is not nearly so perfect and the risk is, therefore, higher. But that is a far cry from doubting the opinion of a handwriting expert as an invariable rule and insisting upon substantial corroboration in every case, howsoever the opinion may be backed by the soundest of reasons. It is hardly fair to an expert to view his opinion with an initial suspicion and to treat him as an inferior sort of witness. His opinion has to be tested by the acceptability of the reasons given by him. An expert deposes and not decides. His duty `is to furnish the judge with the necessary scientific criteria for testing the accuracy of his conclusion, so as to enable the judge to form his own independent judgment by the application of these criteria to the facts proved in evidence'. (vide Lord President Cooper in Dacie v. Edinbeagh Magistrate : 1953 S. C. 34 quoted by Professor Cross in his Evidence).


From the earliest times, courts have received the opinion of experts. As long ago as 1553 it was said in Buckley v. Rice-Thomas(1) :


"If matters arise in our law which concern other sciences or faculties, we commonly apply for the aid of that science or faculty which it concerns. This is a commendable thing in our law. For thereby it appears that we do not dismiss all other sciences but our own, but we approve of them and encourage them as things worthy of commendation."


Expert testimony is made relevant by s. 45 of the Evidence Act and where the Court has to form an opinion upon a point as to identity of handwriting, the opinion of a person `specially skilled' `in questions as to identity of handwriting' is expressly made a relevant fact. There is nothing in the Evidence Act, as for example like illustration (b) to s. 114 which entitles the Court to presume that an accomplice is unworthy of credit, unless he is corroborated in material particulars which justifies the court in assuming that a handwriting expert's opinion is unworthy of credit unless corroborated. The Evidence Act itself (s. 3) tells us that `a fact is said to be proved when, after considering the matters before it, the Court either believes it to exist or considers its existence so probable that a prudent man ought, under the circumstances of the particular case, to act upon the supposition that it exists'. It is necessary to occasionally remind ourselves of this interpretation clause in the Evidence Act lest we set an artificial standard of proof not warranted by the provisions of the Act. Further, under s. 114 of the Evidence Act, 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 facts of the particular case. It is also to be noticed that s. 46 of the Evidence Act makes facts, not otherwise relevant, relevant if they support or are inconsistent with the opinions of experts, when such opinions are relevant. So, corroboration may not invariably be insisted upon before acting on the opinion of handwriting expert and there need be no initial suspicion. But, on the facts of a particular case, a court may require corroboration of a varying degree. There can be no hard and fast rule, but nothing will justify the rejection of the opinion of an expert supported by unchallenged reasons on the sole ground that it is not corroborated. The approach of a court while dealing with the opinion of a handwriting expert should be to proceed cautiously, probe the reasons for the opinion, consider all other relevant evidence and decide finally to accept or reject it.


Apart from principle, let us examine if precedents justify invariable insistence on corroboration. We have referred to Phipson on Evidence, Cross on Evidence, Roscoe on Criminal Evidence, Archibald on Criminal Pleadings, Evidence and Practice and Halsbury's Laws of England but we were unable to find a single sentence hinting at such a rule. We may now refer to some of the decisions of this Court. In Ram Chander v. U.P. State,(1) Jagannatha Das, J. observed : "It may be that normally it is not safe to treat expert evidence as to handwriting as sufficient basis for conviction" (emphasis ours) "May" and "normally" make our point about the absence of an inflexible rule. In Ishwari Prasad Misra v. Mohammed Isa,(2) Gajendragadkar, J. observed : "Evidence given by experts can never conclusive, because after all it is opinion evidence", a statement which carries us nowhere on the question now under consideration. Nor, can the statement be disputed because it is not so provided by the Evidence Act and, on the contrary, s. 46 expressly makes opinion evidence challengeable by facts, otherwise irrelevant. And as Lord President Cooper observed in Davie v. Edinburgh Magistrate : "The parties have invoked the decision of a judicial tribunal and not an oracular pronouncement by an expert".


In Shashi Kumar v. Subodh Kumar,(3) Wanchoo, J., after noticing various features of the opinion of the expert said :


"We do not consider in the circumstances of this case that the evidence of the expert is conclusive and can falsify the evidence of the attesting witnesses and also the circumstances which go to show that this will must have been signed in 1943 as it purports to be. Besides it is necessary to observe that expert's evidence as to handwriting is opinion evidence and it can rarely, if ever take the place of substantive evidence. Before acting on such evidence it is usual to see if it is corroborated either by clear direct evidence or by circumstantial evidence. In the present case the probabilities are against the expert's opinion and the direct testimony of the two attesting witnesses which we accept is wholly inconsistent with it".

So, there was acceptable direct testimony which was destructive of the expert's opinion; there are other features also which made the expert's opinion unreliable. The observation regarding corroboration must be read in that context and it is worthy of note that even so the expression used was `it is usual' and not "it is necessary'.


In Fakhruddin v. State of Madhya Pradesh- Hidayatullah, J. said :


"Both under s. 45 and s. 47 the evidence is an opinion, in the former by a scientific comparison and in the latter on the basis of familiarity resulting from frequent observations and experience. In either case the Court must satisfy itself by such means as are open that the opinion may be acted upon. One such means open to the Court is to apply its own observation to the admitted or proved writings and to compare them with the disputed one, not to become an handwriting expert but to verify the premises of the expert in the one case and to comparison depends on an analysis of the characteristics in appraise the value of the opinion in the other case. This the admitted or proved writing and the finding of the same characteristics in large measure in the disputed writing. In this way the opinion of the deponent whether expert or other is subjected to scrutiny and although relevant to start with becomes probative. Where an expert's opinion is given, the Court must see for itself and with the assistance of the expert come to its own conclusion whether it can safely be held that the two writings are by the same person. This is not to say that the Court must play the role of an expert but to say that the Court may accept the fact proved only when it has satisfied itself on its own observation that it is safe to accept the opinion whether of the expert or other witness."

These observations lend no support to any requirement as to corroboration of expert testimony. On the other hand, the facts show that the Court ultimately did act upon the uncorroborated testimony of the expert though these Judges took the precaution of comparing the writings themselves.


Finally, we come to Magan Bihari Lal v. State of Punjab - upon which Sri R. C. Kohli, learned counsel, placed great reliance. It was said by this Court :


"......but we think it would be extremely hazardous to condemn the appellant merely on the strength of opinion evidence of a handwriting expert. It is now well settled that expert opinion must always be received with great caution and perhaps none so with more caution than the opinion of a handwriting expert. There is a profusion of presidential authority which holds that it is unsafe to base a conviction solely on expert opinion without substantial corroboration. This rule has been universally acted upon and it has almost become a rule of law. It was held by this Court in Ram Chandra v. State of U.P. AIR 1957 SC 381 that it is unsafe to treat expert handwriting opinion as sufficient basis for conviction, but it may be relied upon when supported by other items of internal and external evidence. This Court again pointed out in Ishwari Prasad v. Md. Isa, AIR 1963 SC 1728 that expert evidence of handwriting can never be conclusive because it is, after all opinion evidence, and this view was reiterated in Shashi Kumar v. Subodh Kumar, AIR 1964 SC 529 where it was pointed out by this Court that expert's evidence as to handwriting being opinion evidence can rarely, if ever, take the place of substantive evidence and before acting on such evidence, it would be desirable to consider whether it is corroborated either by clear direct evidence or by circumstantial evidence. This Court had again occasion to consider the evidentially value of expert opinion in regard to handwriting in Fakhruddin v. State of M.P., AIR 1967 SC 1326 and it uttered a note of caution pointing out that it would be risky to found a conviction solely on the evidence of a handwriting expert and before acting upon such evidence, the court must always try to see whether it is corroborated by other evidence, direct or circumstantial."

The above extracted passage, undoubtedly, contains some sweeping general observations. But we do not think that the observations were meant to be observations of general application or as laying down any legal principle. It was plainly intended to be a rule of caution and not a rule of law as is clear from the statement `it has almost become a rule of law'. "Almost", we presume, means "not quite". It was said by the Court there was a "profusion of presidential authority" which insisted upon corroboration and reference was made to Ram Chandra v. State of U.P., Ishwari Prasad v. Mohammed Isa, Shashi Kumar v. Subodh Kumar and Fakhruddin v. State of M.P. (supra). We have already discussed these cases and observed that none of them supports the proposition that corroboration must invariably be sought before opinion evidence can be accepted. There appears to be some mistake in the last sentence of the above extracted passage because we are unable to find in Fakhruddin v. State of M. P. (supra) any statement such as the one attributed. In fact, in that case, the learned Judges acted upon the sole testimony of the expert after satisfying themselves about the correctness of the opinion by comparing the writings themselves. We do think that the observations in Magan Bihari Lal v. State of Punjab (supra) must be understood as referring to the facts of the particular case.


We are firmly of the opinion that there is no rule of law, nor any rule of prudence which has crystalized into a rule of law, that opinion evidence of a handwriting expert must never be acted upon, unless substantially corroborated. But, having due regard to the imperfect nature of the science of identification of handwriting, the approach, as we indicated earlier, should be one of caution. Reasons for the opinion must be carefully probed and examined. All other relevant evidence must be considered. In appropriate cases, corroboration may be sought. In cases where the reasons for the opinion are convincing and there is no reliable evidence throwing a doubt, the uncorroborated testimony of an handwriting expert may be accepted. There cannot be any inflexible rule on a matter which, in the ultimate analysis, is no more than a question of testimonial weight. We have said so much because this is an argument frequently met with in subordinate courts and sentences torn out of context from the judgments of this Court are often flaunted.


The argument that the court should not venture to compare writings itself, as it would thereby assume to itself the role of an expert is entirely without force. Section 73 of the Evidence Act expressly enables the Court to compare disputed writings with admitted or proved writings to ascertain whether a writing is that of the person by whom it purports to have been written. If it is hazardous to do so, as sometimes said, we are afraid it is one of the hazards to which judge and litigant must expose themselves whenever it becomes necessary. There may be cases where both sides call experts and two voices of science are heard. There may be cases where neither side calls an expert, being ill able to afford him. In all such cases, it becomes the plain duty of the Court to compare the writings and come to its own conclusion. The duty cannot be avoided by recourse to the statement that the court is no expert. Where there are expert opinions they will aid the Court. Where there is none, the Court will have to seek guidance from some authoritative textbook and the Court's own experience and knowledge. But discharge it must, its plain duty, with or without expert, with or without other evidence. We may mention that Shashi Kumar v. Subodh Kumar and Fakhruddin v. State of Madhya Pradesh (supra) were cases where the Court itself compared the writings.


Supreme Court of India

Selvi & Ors vs State Of Karnataka & Anr on 5 May, 2010

In our considered opinion, the compulsory administration of the impugned techniques violates the `right against self- incrimination'. This is because the underlying rationale of the said right is to ensure the reliability as well as voluntariness of statements that are admitted as evidence. This Court has recognised that the protective scope of Article 20(3) extends to the investigative stage in criminal cases and when read with Section 161(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 it protects accused persons, suspects as well as witnesses who are examined during an investigation. The test results cannot be admitted in evidence if they have been obtained through the use of compulsion. Article 20(3) protects an individual's choice between speaking and remaining silent, irrespective of whether the subsequent testimony proves to be inculpatory or exculpatory. Article 20(3) aims to prevent the forcible `conveyance of personal knowledge that is relevant to the facts in issue'. The results obtained from each of the impugned tests bear a `testimonial' character and they cannot be categorised as material evidence.


We are also of the view that forcing an individual to undergo any of the impugned techniques violates the standard of `substantive due process' which is required for restraining personal liberty. Such a violation will occur irrespective of whether these techniques are forcibly administered during the course of an investigation or for any other purpose since the test results could also expose a person to adverse consequences of a non-penal nature. The impugned techniques cannot be read into the statutory provisions which enable medical examination during investigation in criminal cases, i.e. the Explanation to Sections 53, 53-A and 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Such an expansive interpretation is not feasible in light of the rule of `ejusdem generis' and the considerations which govern the interpretation of statutes in relation to scientific advancements. We have also elaborated how the compulsory administration of any of these techniques is an unjustified intrusion into the mental privacy of an individual. It would also amount to `cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment' with regard to the language of evolving international human rights norms. Furthermore, placing reliance on the results gathered from these techniques comes into conflict with the `right to fair trial'. Invocations of a compelling public interest cannot justify the dilution of constitutional rights such as the `right against self-incrimination'.


In light of these conclusions, we hold that no individual should be forcibly subjected to any of the techniques in question, whether in the context of investigation in criminal cases or otherwise. Doing so would amount to an unwarranted intrusion into personal liberty. However, we do leave room for the voluntary administration of the impugned techniques in the context of criminal justice, provided that certain safeguards are in place. Even when the subject has given consent to undergo any of these tests, the test results by themselves cannot be admitted as evidence because the subject does not exercise conscious control over the responses during the administration of the test. However, any information or material that is subsequently discovered with the help of voluntary administered test results can be admitted, in accordance with Section 27 of the Evidence Act, 1872. The National Human Rights Commission had published `Guidelines for the Administration of Polygraph Test (Lie Detector Test) on an Accused' in 2000. These guidelines should be strictly adhered to and similar safeguards should be adopted for conducting the `Narcoanalysis technique' and the `Brain Electrical Activation Profile' test. The text of these guidelines has been reproduced below:


(i) No Lie Detector Tests should be administered except on the basis of consent of the accused. An option should be given to the accused whether he wishes to avail such test.

(ii) If the accused volunteers for a Lie Detector Test, he should be given access to a lawyer and the physical, emotional and legal implication of such a test should be explained to him by the police and his lawyer.

(iii) The consent should be recorded before a Judicial Magistrate.

(iv) During the hearing before the Magistrate, the person alleged to have agreed should be duly represented by a lawyer.

(v) At the hearing, the person in question should also be told in clear terms that the statement that is made shall not be a `confessional' statement to the Magistrate but will have the status of a statement made to the police.

(vi) The Magistrate shall consider all factors relating to the detention including the length of detention and the nature of the interrogation.

(vii) The actual recording of the Lie Detector Test shall be done by an independent agency (such as a hospital) and conducted in the presence of a lawyer.

(viii) A full medical and factual narration of the manner of the information received must be taken on record.


Madhya Pradesh High Court

Ku. Anita, Minor vs Atal Bihari And Anr. on 8 May, 1992

there is a conflict between the entries about the date of birth made in the School Register and the ration card. The accused has filed his horoscope and with affidavits, but even if the said material is not considered, there is a specific evidence of the entry of the date of birth in the record of Registration of births and deaths maintained in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1969. That is a certificate of the entry of date of birth duly made in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1969, issued by the Registrar of Births and Deaths. The Registrar who acts or purports to act in pursuance of the provisions of the Act of 1969 or any rule or order made thereunder, is deemed to be a public servant within the meaning of Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code, as laid down in Section 26. Therefore, the document, i.e., the certificate was admissible under Section 35 of the Evidence Act, as it fully satisfies the three conditions, namely, (i) the entry of the date of birth relied on was made in the Register of Births and Deaths, a public record; (ii) it is an entry stating a fact in issue or relevant fact, and (iii) it was made by a public servant in discharge of his official duty. Hence, the entry relating to date of birth entered in the public record, maintained statutorily, was rightly admitted in evidence. See Birad Mal Singhvi v. Anand Purohit, AIR 1988 SC 1796; D. K. Arya v. Union of India, 1990 (1) MPWN 204 (DB) and Pramy V. Ram Nayak v. Smt. Tirath Bai, 1985 MPWN 185. True, the report of the radiological examination of the accused gives the age between 16 and 18 years. However, it is notorious and one can take judicial notice that the margin of error in age ascertained by radiological examination is two years on either side. See Jaya Mala's case, AIR 1982 SC 1297 : (1982 Cri LJ 1777). The medical opinion is after all an opinion evidence. In Modi's Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology, 20th edn., at p. 32 it is stated that too much reliance should not be placed on the Table showing the age in years of the appearance and fusion of some of the epiphyses as observed by different authors, as it merely indicates an average and is likely to vary in individual cases even of the same province owing to the eccentricities of development. It is further stated that recent work has shown that the range of error may be up to three years on either side. An ossification test may provide a surer basis for determination of age of an individual than the opinion of a medical expert, but the opinion of the Radiologist cannot be preferred to the positive evidence of the entry of date of birth made in the Register of Births and Deaths, immediately after two months of the date of birth of the accused.


Supreme Court of India

State Of Madhya Pradesh vs Sanjay Rai on 25 March, 2004

The only circumstance which the Trial Court relied upon to hold guilt was by referring to some text books on medical jurisprudence. With reference to them it was held that case of strangulation was clearly made out.


It cannot be said that the opinions of these authors were given in regard to circumstances exactly similar to those which arose in the case now before us nor is this a satisfactory way of dealing with or disposing of the evidence of an expert examined in this case unless the passages which are sought to be relied to discredit his opinion are put to him. This Court in Sunderlal v. The State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1954 SC 28), disapproved of Judges drawing conclusions adverse to the accused by relying upon such passages in the absence of their being put to medical witnesses. Similar view was expressed in Bhagwan Das and another v. State of Rajasthan (AIR 1957 SC 589). Though opinions expressed in text books by specialist authors may be of considerable assistance and importance for the Court in arriving at the truth, cannot always be treated or viewed to be either conclusive or final as to what such author says to deprive even a Court of law to come to an appropriate conclusion of its own on the peculiar facts proved in a given case. In substance, though such views may have persuasive value cannot always be considered to be authoritatively binding, even to dispense with the actual proof otherwise reasonably required of the guilt of the accused in a given case. Such opinions cannot be elevated to or placed on higher pedestal than the opinion of an expert examined in Court and the weight ordinarily to which it may be entitled to or deserves to be given.

Apart from that, even if on the hypothetical basis it is held that doubt could arise on the basis of strangulation, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever to connect the respondent-accused with the act of strangulation, the conclusions of the Trial Court could not have been maintained and the High Court which is entitled to re-appreciate the evidence could and has rightly discarded it.


Supreme Court of India

Vishnu @ Undrya vs State Of Maharashtra on 24 November, 2005

A medical witness called in as an expert to assist the Court is not a witness of fact and the evidence given by the medical officer is really of an advisory character given on the basis of symptoms found on examination. The expert witness is expected to put before the Court all materials inclusive of the data which induced him to come to the conclusion and enlighten the Court on the technical aspect of the case by explaining the terms of science so that the Court although, not an expert may form its own judgment on those materials after giving due regard to the expert's opinion because once the expert's opinion is accepted, it is not the opinion of the medical officer but of the Court."


Mohd. Aman v. State of Rajasthan, (1997) 4 Supreme 635.

Admissibility The science of identification of footprints is not a fully developed science and therefore if in a given case, evidence relating to the same is found satisfactory it may be used only to reinforce the conclusions as to the identity of a culprit already arrived at on the basis of other evidence; Mohd. Aman v. State of Rajasthan, (1997) 4 Supreme 635.



015. Opinion of expert
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