The Delhi High Court on Thursday set aside the conviction order of three convicts in a murder case dating back to 1998, while holding that the testimony of the sole eye-witness based on which the trial court had convicted them was not reliable.
The judgment rendered by a division bench comprising of Justice C Hari Shankar and Justice Siddharth Mridul, raises a caution that conviction may be based on the testimony of a sole witness only if it inspires confidence of the court, beyond suspicion, thus, leaving no doubt in the mind of the court.
In the present case, the bench observed at the outset that it is a settled principle of law that conviction can rest on the sole testimony of an eye-witness, without any supportive evidence whatsoever, if the credibility of the evidence of the eye-witness is established conclusively.
"Seeing is believing, and, therefore, the evidence of an eyewitness, if credible, constitutes, needless to say, the best possible evidence. There is wealth of judicial authority for the proposition that conviction may rest on the sole testimony of an eyewitness, sans any other evidence, provided, always, the evidence of the eyewitness is absolutely credible," the bench said.
In this backdrop, the court proceeded to evaluate the evidence of PW8, the sole eye-witness in the case.
"The court is required to assess, among other things, the evidence of the eye-witness, as tendered during investigation, when compared with his evidence during trial, and to examine whether the evidence, tendered during trial, is cogent and coherent, and free from any disabling inconsistencies, as well as the extent to which the evidence of the eyewitness is consistent with the evidence of other witnesses, tendered during trial."
Pursuant to an assessment of all the material placed on record, the bench found the testimony of PW8 to be replete with inconsistencies, both within itself as well as vis-à-vis his deposition under Section 161, Cr.P.C., as also opposed to the testimony of the Police witnesses.
Demonstrating these inconsistencies under nine heads, the bench held that it is unsafe to base conviction, on a charge of murder, on the sole testimony of an eyewitness, especially when the eyewitness was related to the deceased. Reliance was placed on Jagdish v. State of Haryana, (2019) 7 SCC 711.
Accordingly it was held,
"convicting the appellants on the basis of the sole evidence of PW-8 Umesh Singh, who claimed to be an eyewitness to the murder of Barun, the learned ASJ has erred in failing to examine, holistically, all the aspects of the case, which, comprehensively reviewed, completely discredit the testimony of Umesh Singh as sufficient to justify, on its sole strength thereof, the conviction of the appellants before us…
… The appellants are acquitted of the charges against them. Bail Bonds, if any, executed by the appellants, would stand discharged."
Case Title: Dalip Kumar v. State of Delhi
Case No.: Crl Apl No. 45/2002
Quorum: Justice C Hari Shankar and Justice Siddharth Mridul
Appearance: Advocate Satish Sharma (for Appellants); APP Ravi Nayak (for State)
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