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Witness Testimony: Key Considerations and Legal Principles Evidence Act

Witness Testimony Evidence Act


Witness Testimony: Key Considerations and Legal Principles

Under Section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act, all individuals are deemed competent to testify unless, in the court's opinion, they are incapable of understanding the questions posed to them or providing rational responses due to reasons such as tender years, extreme old age, mental or physical illness, or any other similar cause.

Even a person deemed lunatic may testify if they can comprehend the questions and offer coherent answers.

The Supreme Court, in the case of Man Kaur v Hartar Singh Sangha, (2010) 10 SCC 512, has outlined the guidelines regarding who should provide evidence regarding matters within their personal knowledge:

(a) An attorney-holder who initiates legal proceedings by signing the plaint but lacks personal knowledge of the transaction can only furnish formal evidence concerning the validity of the power of attorney and the filing of the suit.

(b) If the attorney-holder has conducted any actions or transactions pursuant to the power of attorney granted by the principal, they may testify to prove those actions or transactions.

If the attorney-holder possesses personal knowledge of such acts and transactions while the principal does not, the attorney-holder must testify if these acts and transactions need validation.

(c) The attorney-holder cannot testify on behalf of the principal regarding acts or transactions of which only the principal has personal knowledge.

(d) In cases where the principal has never directly participated in or had knowledge of the transaction, and the attorney-holder has managed the entire affair, only the attorney-holder can provide evidence regarding the transaction.

This scenario often arises when principals conduct business through authorised managers or attorney-holders, or when individuals abroad manage their affairs through attorney-holders.

(e) If the transaction has been solely handled by a specific attorney-holder, the principal must call upon that attorney-holder to validate the transaction, not a different or subsequent attorney-holder.

(f) If different attorney-holders have managed the matter at various stages of the transaction, all attorney-holders must testify if evidence is required regarding what occurred at those different stages.

(g) When the law necessitates a party to establish or prove something related to their "state of mind" or "conduct," typically, the concerned individual must provide evidence, not an attorney-holder.

However, there is an exception to this rule, particularly when all the affairs of a party are exclusively managed by an attorney-holder, such as a close family member. In such cases, the evidence of the attorney-holder may be accepted, even regarding matters like bona fides or "readiness and willingness."

Examples of such attorney-holders include spouses managing each other's affairs, children managing the affairs of elderly parents, or parents managing the affairs of children residing abroad.

Types of Witnesses

Interested, Relative, or Partisan Witnesses

In legal proceedings, the involvement of interested, relative, or partisan witnesses holds particular significance. Close relatives, considered natural witnesses, may not automatically be labelled as interested witnesses solely due to their familial ties to the accused.

While their relationship with the parties involved may raise concerns about bias, it's essential to recognize that obtaining entirely independent witnesses isn't always feasible. Thus, while their testimony is admissible, courts must exercise heightened scrutiny to ensure impartiality and accuracy.

Child Witnesses

The testimony of child witnesses presents unique challenges and considerations. While their accounts shouldn't be summarily dismissed, they necessitate careful examination and scrutiny.

Preliminary questioning is crucial to assess the child's ability to comprehend and articulate their experiences coherently. If a child's testimony demonstrates clarity, consistency, and resilience under cross-examination, their evidence may be deemed credible and admissible.

Defence Witnesses

The credibility of defence witnesses is subject to the same rigorous standards applied to prosecution witnesses. Any inconsistencies or lapses in their testimony are evaluated impartially, without prejudice.

It's imperative to assess the reliability of their accounts based on the same criteria applied to other witnesses, ensuring that their evidence contributes meaningfully to the proceedings.

Rustic Witnesses

Witnesses from rural or rustic backgrounds offer testimony that reflects their simple way of life. Their evidence should be interpreted with an understanding of their cultural context, recognizing that minor inconsistencies may arise due to their environment and experiences.

Despite these potential discrepancies, their testimony holds value and should not be discounted solely based on their rustic background.

Panch or Stock Witnesses

Certain witnesses, such as police witnesses known as "panch witnesses" or "stock witnesses," may raise concerns about their reliability and impartiality. Their frequent appearances in legal proceedings and susceptibility to external influences may cast doubt on the credibility of their testimony.

As such, corroboration of their evidence becomes essential to establish its trustworthiness and accuracy.

Trap Witnesses

Witnesses involved in entrapment scenarios, often referred to as "trap witnesses," pose challenges to the reliability of their testimony. Due to the circumstances surrounding their involvement, their evidence may require additional corroboration to ensure its veracity and credibility.

Relying solely on the testimony of trap witnesses without corroborating evidence may not be prudent, necessitating caution and thorough scrutiny in evaluating their accounts.

Contradictions and Discrepancies

Contradictions and discrepancies in the depositions of witnesses present a common challenge in criminal proceedings, particularly in cases involving serious offences like murder.

It's crucial for criminal courts to recognize that witnesses may react differently to witnessing an incident, such as a murder, and their responses may not conform to a set pattern or expectation.

While discrepancies and contradictions in witness testimonies are inevitable, they do not automatically invalidate the entirety of their testimony. Unless these inconsistencies are deemed material and substantial, particularly concerning vitally relevant aspects of the facts under consideration, witnesses cannot be summarily discredited, and their testimony discarded.

It's essential to acknowledge that the post-event conduct of witnesses is unpredictable and can vary significantly from one individual to another. Different people may react differently under similar circumstances, and there's no predetermined template for how witnesses should behave following an incident.

For instance, in cases where witnesses are villagers, disparities in their accounts regarding details such as the distance from which shots were fired or the vantage point from which they observed the incident may not necessarily undermine the credibility of their overall testimony.

As long as there's nothing inherently contradictory or suspicious about their evidence beyond these minor differences, their testimonies should be considered valid and weighed accordingly.

Material and Normal Discrepancies

In assessing the evidence presented before it, the court must discern between normal and material discrepancies. Normal discrepancies, which are inherent in human perception and memory, do not inherently undermine the credibility of a party's case.

However, material discrepancies, those that pertain to crucial aspects of the case, can significantly impact the reliability of the testimony.

It's crucial to note that the maxim "falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus" (false in one thing, false in everything) is not a legal principle but a rule of caution. This maxim does not find application in Indian law.

Therefore, if a witness's testimony is rejected concerning certain accused individuals, it doesn't necessitate rejecting their testimony against all accused parties. A witness cannot be deemed false in all respects merely because they've been shown to be false in one aspect.

Consequently, if only a portion of a witness's testimony is found to be false, it doesn't mandate disregarding their entire testimony.

The court is empowered to discern the truth from falsehoods within a witness's statements, separating accurate accounts from those deemed unreliable.

Furthermore, even if a significant portion of the evidence is deemed deficient, if the remaining evidence is sufficient to establish the guilt of the accused, their conviction can be upheld despite the acquittal of co-accused individuals.

This underscores the principle that each case must be evaluated on its merits, with due consideration given to the totality of the evidence presented.

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