TYPE OF TESTIMONEY AND CONVICTION ON SOLE TESTIMONY :-
In State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh & Ors., 1996 (2) SCC 384, this Court has observed :
"The courts must, while evaluating evidence, remain alive to the fact that in a case of rape, no self - respecting woman would come forward in a court just to make a humiliating statement against her honour such as is involved in the commission of rape on her. In cases involving sexual molestation, supposed considerations which have no material effect on the veracity of the prosecution case of even discrepancies in the statement of the prosecutrix should not, unless the discrepancies are such which are of fatal nature, be allowed to throw out an otherwise reliable prosecution case. The inherent bashfulness of the females and the tendency to conceal outrage of sexual aggression are factors which the courts should not overlook…"
When will Corroboration be necessary?
It is also well settled principle of law that corroboration as a condition for judicial reliance on the testimony of the prosecutrix is not a requirement of law but a guidance of prudence under given circumstances. [State of Himachal Pradesh v. Asha Ram, AIR 2006 SC 381 : 2006 SCC (Cri) 296]
In Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v. State of Gujarat, 1983 (3) SCC 217 the Supreme Court held as follows;
"We are therefore of the opinion that if the evidence of the victim does not suffer from any basic infirmity, and the probabilities-factors does not render it unworthy of credence, as a general rule, there is no reason to insist on corroboration except from the medical evidence, where, having regard to the circumstances of the case, medical evidence can be expected to be forthcoming, subject to the following qualification:
Corroboration may be insisted upon when a woman having attained majority is found in a compromising position and there is a likelihood of her having levelled such an accusation on account of the instinct of self-preservation. Or when the 'probabilities-factor' is found to be out of tune"
In Sadashiv Ramrao Hadbe v. State of Maharashtra, 2006 (10) SCC 92 : 2007 (1) SCC (Cri) 161 Supreme Court reiterated that the sole testimony of the prosecutrix could be relied upon if it inspires the confidence of the Court:
"9. It is true that in a rape case the accused could be convicted on the sole testimony of the prosecutrix, if it is capable of inspiring confidence in the mind of the Court. If the version given by the prosecutrix is unsupported by any medical evidence or the whole surrounding circumstances are highly improbable and belie the case set up by the prosecutrix, the Court shall not act on the solitary evidence of the prosecutrix. The Courts shall be extremely careful in accepting the sole testimony of the prosecutrix when the entire case is improbable and unlikely to happen."
The Test to be adopted by Courts
Why should the evidence of a girl or a woman who complains of rape or sexual molestation be viewed with doubt, disbelief or suspicion? The court while appreciating the evidence of a prosecutrix may look for some assurance of her statement to satisfy its judicial conscience, since she is a witness who is interested in the outcome of the charge leveled by her, but there is no requirement of law to insist upon corroboration of her statement to base conviction of an accused. The evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands almost on a par with the evidence of an injured witness and to an extent is even more reliable.
Corroboration as a condition for judicial reliance on the testimony of the prosecutrix is not a requirement of law but a guidance of prudence under given circumstances. It must not be overlooked that a woman or a girl subjected to sexual assault is not an accomplice to the crime but is a victim of another person's lust and it is improper and undesirable to test her evidence with a certain amount of suspicion, treating her as if she were an accomplice. Inferences have to be drawn from a given set of facts and circumstances with realistic diversity and not dead uniformity lest that type of rigidity in the shape of rule of law is introduced through a new form of testimonial tyranny making justice a casualty. Courts cannot cling to a fossil formula and insist upon corroboration even if, taken as a whole, the case spoken of by the victim of sex crime strikes the judicial mind as probable." [Ranjit Hazarika vs. State of Assam(1998) 8 SCC 635]
In Rai Sandeep @ Deepu vs. State: (2012) 8 SCC 21, the Supreme Court has defined as to who is a "sterling witness". A "sterling witness" is one who is of a very high quality and caliber, whose version is unassailable and the court considering the version of such a witness should be in a position to accept it on, its face value without any hesitation. The Supreme Court in Rai Sandeep (supra) has gone on to state that to test the quality of such a witness, the status of the witness would be immaterial and the relevant consideration would only be the truthfulness of the statement made by such a witness. If the statement is consistent right from the starting point till the end and is found to be natural and consistent with the case of the prosecution, his deposition is safe to be relied upon. There should not be any prevarication in the version of such a witness to be called a "sterling witness". The version of such witness should have a correlation with each and every supporting material of the case and should match with the version of every other witness. It was summed up by the Supreme Court by stating that if the version of a witness, on the core spectrum of the crime, remains intact and the other materials match such version in essential particulars, then only, it would enable a Court to rely upon the core version. The test to be applied for considering such witness to be truthful is similar to the test applied in case of circumstantial evidence where there are no missing links in the chain of the circumstances to hold an accused guilty of the offence alleged against him.
Supreme Court in State of Punjab vs. Gurmeet Singh: (1996) 2 SCC 384 has made the following observations with respect to the evidence of a victim of sexual assault.
"The inherent bashfulness of the females and the tendency to conceal outrage of sexual aggression are factors which the Courts should not over-look. The testimony of the victim in such cases is vital and unless there are compelling reasons which necessitate looking for corroboration of her statement, the courts should find no difficulty to act on the testimony of a victim of sexual assault alone to convict an accused where her testimony inspires confidence and is found to be reliable. Seeking corroboration of her statement before relying upon the same, as a rule, in such cases amounts to adding insult to injury. Why should the evidence of a girl of a woman who complains of rape or sexual molestation, be viewed with doubt, disbelief or suspicion? The Court while appreciating the evidence of a prosecutrix may look for some assurance of her statement to satisfy its judicial conscience, since she is a witness who is interested in the outcome of the charge levelled by her, but there is no requirement of law to insist upon corroboration of her statement to base conviction of an accused. The evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands almost on a par with the evidence of an injured witness and to an extent is even more reliable. Just as a witness who has sustained some injury in the occurrence, which is not found to be self inflicted, is considered to be a good witness in the sense that he is least likely to shield the real culprit, the evidence of a victim of a sexual offence is entitled to great weight, absence of corroboration notwithstanding. Corroborative evidence is not an imperative component of judicial credence in every case of rape. Corroboration as a condition for judicial reliance on the testimony of the prosecutrix is not a requirement of law but a guidance of prudence under given circumstances. It must not be over- looked that a woman or a girl subjected to sexual assault is not an accomplice to the crime but is a victim of another person's lust and it is improper and undesirable to test her evidence with a certain amount of suspicion, treating her as if she were an accomplice. Inferences have to be drawn from a given set of facts and circumstances with realistic diversity and not dead uniformity lest that type of rigidity in the shape of rule of law is introduced through a new form of testimonial tyranny making justice a casualty. Courts cannot cling to a fossil formula and insist upon corroboration even if, taken as a whole, the case spoken of by the victim of sex crime strikes the judicial mind as probable.
A Rape victim is not in the position of accomplice :
In State of Maharashtra Vs. Chandraprakash Kewalchand Jain Ahmadi, J. (as the Lord Chief Justice then was) speaking for the Bench summarised the position in the following words:
"A prosecutrix of a sex offence cannot be put on a par with an accomplice. She is in fact a victim of the crime. The Evidence Act nowhere says that her evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars. She is undoubtedly a competent witness under Section 118 and her evidence must receive the same weight as is attached to an injured in cases of physical violence. The same degree of care and caution must attach in the evaluation of her evidence as in the case of an injured complainant or witness and no more. What is necessary is that the court must be alive to and conscious of the fact that it is dealing with the evidence of a person who is interested in the outcome of the charge levelled by her. If the court keeps this in mind and feels satisfied that it can act on the evidence of the prosecutrix, there is no rule of law or practice incorporated in the Evidence Act similar to illustration (b) to Section 114 which requires it to look for corroboration. If for some reason the court is hesitant to place implicit reliance on the testimony of the prosecurtix it may look for evidence which may lend assurance to her testimony short of corroboration required in the case of an accomplice. The nature of evidence required to lend assurance to the testimony of the prosecutrix must necessarily depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. But if a prosecutrix is an adult and of full understanding the court is entitled to base a conviction on her evidence unless the same is shown to be infirm and not trustworthy. If the totality of the circumstances appearing on the record of the case disclose that the prosecutrix does not have a strong motive to falsely involve the person charged, the court should ordinarily have no hesitation in accepting her evidence."
Reference has also been made to the judgments delivered in Aslam vs. State of Uttar Pradesh: (2014) 13 SCC 350; Ravinder vs. State of Madhya Pradesh: (2015) 4 SCC 491; and Om Prakash vs. State of Uttar Pradesh: (2006) 9 SCC 787 to canvas the proposition that victim of sexual assault cannot be treated as an accomplice and therefore the evidence of the victim does not require any corroboration and that it must be relied upon by the Court if such statement is cogent and trustworthy.
The Supreme Court in Mukesh vs. State of Chhattisgarh: (2014) 10 SCC 327, which was a case of rape, has held that the state of mind of the prosecutrix cannot be precisely analyzed on the basis of speculation because each person reacts differently to a particular stressful situation.
The Supreme Court in State of Uttar Pradesh vs. Manoj Kumar Pandey: (2009) 1 SCC 72; Satpal Singh vs. State of Haryana: (2010) 8 SCC 714; and Santhosh Moolya and Ors. Vs. State of Karnataka: (2010) 5 SCC 445 has held that the normal rule regarding the duty of the prosecution to explain the delay in lodging the FIR and the lack of prejudice and/or prejudice caused because of such delayed lodging of the FIR does not per se apply to cases of rape. It was held by the Supreme Court that such was the consistent view for a very long time.
Mohd. Iqbal v. State of Jharkhand, (2013) 14 SCC 481, wherein it has been held that there is no prohibition in law to convict an accused of rape on the sole basis of the testimony of the prosecutrix and law does not require her statement to be corroborated by the statement of other witnesses. Accordingly, the learned counsel has urged that the impugned judgment is bad in law and liable to be set aside.
State v. Wasim & Anr, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 8502 had while finding the testimony of the prosecutrix therein could not be relied upon, observed as under:
"19. ...Even though there is no quarrel with the proposition that conviction can be based on the sole testimony of the prosecutrix but at the same time, it must be unimpeachable and beyond reproach precluding any shadow of doubt over her veracity. We may only refer to few pronouncements of the Apex Court in this regard.
In Ramdas v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 2 SCC 170, it was held as under:
"23. It is no doubt true that the conviction in a case of rape can be based solely on the testimony of the prosecutrix, but that can be done in a case where the court is convinced about the truthfulness of the prosecutrix and there exist no circumstances which cast a shadow of doubt over her veracity. If the evidence of the prosecutrix is of such quality that may be sufficient to sustain an order of conviction solely on the basis of her testimony. In the instant case we do not find her evidence to be of such quality. ...
25. In the instant case there are two eyewitnesses who have been examined to prove the case of the prosecution. We have rejected outright the evidence of PW 5. We have also critically scrutinised the evidence of the prosecutrix, PW 2. She does not appear to us to be a witness of sterling quality on whose sole testimony a conviction can be sustained. She has tried to conceal facts from the court which were relevant by not deposing about the earlier first information report lodged by her, which is proved to have been recorded at the police station. She has deviated from the case narrated in the first information report solely with a view to avoid the burden of explaining for the earlier report made by her relating to a non-cognizable offence. Her evidence on the question of delay in lodging the report is unsatisfactory and if her deposition is taken as it is, the inordinate delay in lodging the report remains unexplained. Considered in the light of an earlier report made by her in relation to a non-cognizable offence, the second report lodged by her after a few days raises suspicion as to its truthfulness."
The Supreme Court in State of Rajasthan v. Babu Meena, (2013) 4 SCC 206, has observed as under:
"9. We do not have the slightest hesitation in accepting the broad submission of Mr. Jain that the conviction can be based on the sole testimony of the prosecutrix, if found to be worthy of credence and reliable and for that no corroboration is required. It has often been said that oral testimony can be classified into three categories, namely, (i) wholly reliable, (ii) wholly unreliable, and (iii) neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable. In case of wholly reliable testimony of a single witness, the conviction can be founded without corroboration. This principle applies with greater vigour in case the nature of offence is such that it is committed in seclusion. In case prosecution is based on wholly unreliable testimony of a single witness, the court has no option than to acquit the accused."
in Mohd. Ali v. State of U.P., (2015) 7 SCC 272:
"29. Be it noted, there can be no iota of doubt that on the basis of the sole testimony of the prosecutrix, if it is unimpeachable and beyond reproach, a conviction can be based. In the case at hand, the learned trial Judge as well as the High Court have persuaded themselves away with this principle without appreciating the acceptability and reliability of the testimony of the witness. In fact, it would not be inappropriate to say that whatever the analysis in the impugned judgment, it would only indicate an impropriety of approach. The prosecutrix has deposed that she was taken from one place to the other and remained at various houses for almost two months. The only explanation given by her is that she was threatened by the accused persons. It is not in her testimony that she was confined to one place. In fact, it has been borne out from the material on record that she had travelled from place to place and she was ravished a number of times. Under these circumstances, the medical evidence gains significance, for the examining doctor has categorically deposed that there are no injuries on the private parts. The delay in FIR, the non-examination of the witnesses, the testimony of the prosecutrix, the associated circumstances and the medical evidence, leave a mark of doubt to treat the testimony of the prosecutrix as so natural and truthful to inspire confidence. It can be stated with certitude that the evidence of the prosecutrix is not of such quality which can be placed reliance upon.
30. True it is, the grammar of law permits that the testimony of a prosecutrix can be accepted without any corroboration without material particulars, for she has to be placed on a higher pedestal than an injured witness, but, a pregnant one, when a court, on studied scrutiny of the evidence finds it difficult to accept the version of the prosecutrix, because it is not unreproachable, there is requirement for search of such direct or circumstantial evidence which would lend assurance to her testimony. As the present case would show, her testimony does not inspire confidence, and the circumstantial evidence remotely does not lend any support to the same. In the absence of both, we are compelled to hold that the learned trial Judge has erroneously convicted the appellant-accused for the alleged offences and the High Court has fallen into error, without reappreciating the material on record, by giving the stamp of approval to the same."
in Sudhansu Sekhar Sahoo v. State of Orissa, (2002) 10 SCC 743, wherein the Supreme Court finding the story of the prosecution to be improbable and the behavior of the prosecutrix unusual as she had inter alia travelled in a jeep for a long distance in the night and had not questioned her calling in the night, refused to rely upon her testimony to uphold the conviction of the appellant and in the absence of any corroboration extended the benefit of doubt to the appellant. The relevant paragraph reads as under:
"18. It is well settled that in rape cases the conviction can be solely based on the evidence of the victim, provided such evidence inspires confidence in the mind of the court. The victim is not treated as an accomplice, but could only be characterised as injured witness. It is also reasonable to assume that no woman would falsely implicate a person in a sexual offence as the honour and prestige of that woman also would be at stake. However, the evidence of the prosecution shall be cogent and convincing and if there is any supporting material likely to be available, then the rule of prudence requires that evidence of the victim may be supported by such corroborative material."
Apex Court in Rai Sandeep v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2012) 8 SCC 21 reversed the conviction of the Trial Court and its confirmation by the High Court finding contradictions in the testimony of the prosecutrix and that the same was inconsistent with the remaining evidence of the prosecution. While doing so, the Supreme Court examined as to when the prosecutrix can be called to be a „sterling witness‟ as under:
"22. In our considered opinion, the "sterling witness" should be of a very high quality and calibre whose version should, therefore, be unassailable. The court considering the version of such witness should be in a position to accept it for its face value without any hesitation. To test the quality of such a witness, the status of the witness would be immaterial and what would be relevant is the truthfulness of the statement made by such a witness. What would be more relevant would be the consistency of the statement right from the starting point till the end, namely, at the time when the witness makes the initial statement and ultimately before the court. It should be natural and consistent with the case of the prosecution qua the accused. There should not be any prevarication in the version of such a witness. The witness should be in a position to withstand the cross-examination of any length and howsoever strenuous it may be and under no circumstance should give room for any doubt as to the factum of the occurrence, the persons involved, as well as the sequence of it. Such a version should have co-relation with each and every one of other supporting material such as the recoveries made, the weapons used, the manner of offence committed, the scientific evidence and the expert opinion. The said version should consistently match with the version of every other witness. It can even be stated that it should be akin to the test applied in the case of circumstantial evidence where there should not be any missing link in the chain of circumstances to hold the accused guilty of the offence alleged against him. Only if the version of such a witness qualifies the above test as well as all other such similar tests to be applied, can it be held that such a witness can be called as a "sterling witness" whose version can be accepted by the court without any corroboration and based on which the guilty can be punished. To be more precise, the version of the said witness on the core spectrum of the crime should remain intact while all other attendant materials, namely, oral, documentary and material objects should match the said version in material particulars in order to enable the court trying the offence to rely on the core version to sieve the other supporting materials for holding the offender guilty of the charge alleged."
Supreme Court in Sudhansu Sekhar Sahoo (Supra):
"9. It is true that the evidence of the prosecutrix in a rape case is to be given due weight. Sexual violence is a dehumanising act and it is an unlawful encroachment into the right to privacy and sanctity of a woman. The courts also should be strict and vigilant to protect the society from such evils. It is in the interest of the society that serious crimes like rape should be effectively investigated. It is equally important that there must be fairness to all sides. In a criminal case, the court has to consider the triangulation of interests. It involves taking into account the position of the accused, the victim and his or her family and the public. The purpose of criminal law is to permit everyone to go about their daily lives without fear of harm to person or property."
The Apex Court in Radhu v. State of M.P., (2007) 12 SCC 57, observed as under:
"6. ...The courts should, at the same time, bear in mind that false charges of rape are not uncommon. There have also been rare instances where a parent has persuaded a gullible or obedient daughter to make a false charge of a rape either to take revenge or extort money or to get rid of financial liability. Whether there was rape or not would depend ultimately on the facts and circumstances of each case."
44. We may also notice the following observations in Raju v. State of M.P., (2008) 15 SCC 133:
"11. It cannot be lost sight of that rape causes the greatest distress and humiliation to the victim but at the same time a false allegation of rape can cause equal distress, humiliation and damage to the accused as well. The accused must also be protected against the possibility of false implication, particularly where a large number of accused are involved. It must, further, be borne in mind that the broad principle is that an injured witness was present at the time when the incident happened and that ordinarily such a witness would not tell a lie as to the actual assailants, but there is no presumption or any basis for assuming that the statement of such a witness is always correct or without any embellishment or exaggeration."
in Rohit Bansal and Ors. v. State, 2015 VI AD (Delhi) 566 observed that "[t]here is no doubt that rape causes great distress and humiliation to the victim of rape but at the same time false allegation of committing a rape also causes humiliation and damage to the accused."
In Tameezuddin v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2009) 15 SCC 566, the Supreme Court found it improbable that the husband of the victim of rape, after coming to know of the incident, would have gracefully told the accused/appellant therein that everything was forgiven and forgotten but had nevertheless lured him to the police station and thus, wanting supporting evidence. The relevant portion of the judgment reads as under:
"9. It is true that in a case of rape the evidence of the prosecutrix must be given predominant consideration, but to hold that this evidence has to be accepted even if the story is improbable and belies logic, would be doing violence to the very principles which govern the appreciation of evidence in a criminal matter. We are of the opinion that the story is indeed improbable.
10. We note from the evidence that PW 1 had narrated the sordid story to PW 2 on his return from the market and he had very gracefully told the appellant that everything was forgiven and forgotten but had nevertheless lured him to the police station. If such statement had indeed been made by PW 2 there would have been no occasion to even go to the police station. Assuming, however, that the appellant was naive and unaware that he was being led deceitfully to the police station, once having reached there he could not have failed to realise his predicament as the trappings of a police station are familiar and distinctive. Even otherwise, the evidence shows that the appellant had been running a kirana shop in this area, and would, thus, have been aware of the location of the police station. In this view of the matter, some supporting evidence was essential for the prosecution's case."
Apex Court in Dudh Nath Pandey v. State of U.P., (1981) 2 SCC 166, wherein it was observed as under:
"19. ...Defence witnesses are entitled to equal treatment with those of the prosecution. And, courts ought to overcome their traditional, instinctive disbelief in defence witnesses. Quite often, they tell lies but so do the prosecution witnesses. ...