Principles Of Applying Section 106 Of Evidence Act : Supreme Court Explains

Suraj Kumar

7 Oct 2023 1:59 PM GMT

  • Principles Of Applying Section 106 Of Evidence Act : Supreme Court Explains

    The Supreme Court recently held that Section 106 of the Evidence Act does not inherently impose a burden on the accused but comes into play when the accused fails to provide any explanation regarding facts that should be within their knowledge, facts that could support theories compatible with their innocence.The Court observed, “We consider the true rule to be that Section 106 does not...

    The Supreme Court recently held that Section 106 of the Evidence Act does not inherently impose a burden on the accused but comes into play when the accused fails to provide any explanation regarding facts that should be within their knowledge, facts that could support theories compatible with their innocence.

    The Court observed, “We consider the true rule to be that Section 106 does not cast any burden upon an accused in a criminal trial, but that, where the accused throws no light at all upon the facts which ought to be especially within his knowledge, and which could support any theory of hypothesis compatible with his innocence, the Court can also consider his failure to adduce any explanation, in consonance with the principle laid in Deonandan Mishra's case.”

    In the present case relating to murder and domestic cruelty of a wife, the court found that the circumstances presented by the prosecution constituted more than a prima facie case. This allowed the prosecution to invoke Section 106 of the Evidence Act, thereby shifting the burden to the accused husband to explain the events surrounding his wife's death.

    The Court also highlighted the significant role of the judiciary, particularly in cases involving crimes against women. It emphasizes the need for courts to take a practical view of legitimate inferences drawn from evidence, whether circumstantial or direct.

    It held. “The role of courts in such circumstances assumes greater importance and it is expected that the courts would deal with such cases in a more realistic manner and not allow the criminals to escape on account of procedural technicalities, perfunctory investigation or insignificant lacunas in the evidence as otherwise the criminals would receive encouragement and the victims of crime would be totally discouraged by the crime going unpunished. The courts are expected to be sensitive in cases involving crimes against women.”

    The bench comprising Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Prashant Mishra was hearing an appeal against a judgment of the Uttarakhand HC which affirmed the conviction of appellant(husband) under section 302 and 498-A IPC and mother-in-law under section 498-A IPC respectively.

    The deceased, namely, Sudha was married to Balvir Singh in 1997. On 02.06.2007, her father moved an application before the Judicial Magistrate First Class, Kotdwar, Garhwal seeking a direction to the Police to register an FIR in connection with the death of his daughter in suspicious circumstances. An FIR was registered under Sections 302, 498A read with Section 34 of the IPC and Sections 3 and 4 of the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

    The trial court convicted the husband for the offense of murder under section 302 IPC and for causing harassment under section 498-A IPC. However, the mother-in-law was acquitted of the charges of murder and was only convicted under section 498-A IPC.

    The appellants challenged this decision before the HC which did not interfere with it.

    Aggrieved by the same, they approached the Supreme Court.

    The Court noted that the cause of the woman's death was determined to be poisoning, It dismissed the appellant's claim that the aluminum phosphide might have been a result of medicines taken for a heart ailment. In a medico-legal matter, the court found it difficult to believe that if the deceased had been taken to the hospital and declared dead on arrival, the hospital authorities would have permitted the husband to take her body home.

    The court highlighted the suspicious conduct of the appellant(husband) for failing to inform the deceased's family members about her death. The deceased had also written two letters to her father, expressing her desperate need for 1 lakh rupees to save her life, further complicating the circumstances surrounding the case.


    It is pertinent to note Section 106 of the Evidence Act which states that

    “The burden of proving a fact, especially within knowledge.— When any fact is especially within the knowledge of any person, the burden of proving that fact is upon him.”

    The Court clarified that Section 106 is an exception to the general rule under Section 101 of the Evidence Act, which places the burden of proof on the prosecution.

    The Court opined “It is designed to meet certain exceptional cases in which it would be impossible or at any rate disproportionately difficult for the prosecution to establish the facts which are, especially within the knowledge of the accused and which, he can prove without difficulty or inconvenience”.

    The Court referred to a catena of cases that have shed light on the interpretation of section 106 of the Evidence Act.

    In the case of Shambhu Nath Mehra v. The State of Ajmer (AIR 1956 SC 404), the Court, through the words of Justice Vivian Bose, emphasized that the term "especially" underscores facts that are pre-eminently or exceptionally within the accused's knowledge.

    It added, “If the section were to be interpreted otherwise, it would lead to the very startling conclusion that in a murder case the burden lies on the accused to prove that he did not commit the murder because who could know better than he whether he did or did not.”

    The judgment in Nagendra Shah v. State of Bihar (2021) 10 SCC 72 reinforced that, in cases resting on circumstantial evidence, an accused's failure to provide a reasonable explanation as required by Section 106 could serve as an additional link in the chain of circumstances.

    The Court opined “Section 106 of the Evidence Act will apply to those cases where the prosecution has succeeded in establishing the facts from which a reasonable inference can be drawn regarding the existence of certain other facts which are within the special knowledge of the accused. When the accused fails to offer a proper explanation about the existence of said other facts, the court can always draw an appropriate inference.

    As far as the court's authority to presume the existence of certain facts when appropriate is concerned, the court relied on Tulshiram Sahadu Suryawanshi and Another v. State of Maharashtra reported in (2012) 10 SCC 373 which observed “In that process, the courts shall have regard to the common course of natural events, human conduct, etc. in addition to the facts of the case. In these circumstances, the principles embodied in Section 106 of the Evidence Act can also be utilized.”

    The Court referred to Trimukh Maroti Kirkan v. State of Maharashtra (2006) 10 SCC 681, which dealt with challenges faced by the prosecution when an offense occurs within the house.

    The judgment recognized that, in such cases, while the initial burden of establishing the case rests with the prosecution, the nature and quantum of evidence required are comparatively lighter due to Section 106. Simultaneously, the inmates of the house bear a corresponding burden to provide a credible explanation for the crime.

    The Court also held that when a husband is accused of murdering his wife, and the prosecution can establish that they were together shortly before the crime or that the offense occurred within their shared dwelling, the burden of explanation falls heavily on the accused.

    It opined “Where an accused is alleged to have committed the murder of his wife and the prosecution succeeds in leading evidence to show that shortly before the commission of crime they were seen together or the offense takes place in the dwelling home where the husband also normally resided, it has been consistently held that if the accused does not offer any explanation how the wife received injuries or offers an explanation which is found to be false, it is a strong circumstance which indicates that he is responsible for commission of the crime.”

    The Court then relied on State of W.B. v. Mir Mohammad Omar (2000) 8 SCC 382 which dealt with the question of burden of proof, where some facts are within the personal knowledge of the accused. The Court held that if the traditional rule of burden of proof were applied dogmatically, offenders could exploit it to their advantage.

    After a thorough analysis, the court clarified that until a prima facie case is established by the prosecution, the onus of proof does not shift to the accused. However, it highlighted that in such cases, the accused must present a reasonable and acceptable explanation or evidence.

    The judgment emphasized that the prosecution cannot always be expected to provide wholly convincing evidence on all issues, especially those known only to the accused. It cautioned against expecting the prosecution to anticipate and eliminate all possible defenses or circumstances that may exonerate the accused

    It observed “It is impossible for the prosecution to give wholly convincing evidence on certain issues from its own hand and it is therefore for the accused to give evidence on them if he wishes to escape…It is not for the prosecution to anticipate and eliminate all possible defenses or circumstances which may exonerate an accused.”

    The Court also distinguished between the burden of proof and the burden of going forward with evidence. It held that “the burden of proof upon any affirmative proposition necessary to be established as the foundation of an issue does not shift, but the burden of evidence or the burden of explanation may shift from one side to the other according to the testimony.”

    The ruling further clarified that when the prosecution provides evidence that, if believed by the court, could establish the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused has the opportunity to rebut the prosecution's case by providing additional evidence.

    The court acknowledged that in certain situations, especially when the accused possesses unique knowledge about critical events, the onus is on them to provide evidence or explanation.

    It held that “When facts are peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused, the burden is on him to present evidence of such facts, whether the proposition is an affirmative or negative one. He is not required to do so even though a prima facie case has been established, for the court must still find that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before it can convict. However, the accused's failure to present evidence on his behalf may be regarded by the court as confirming the conclusion indicated by the evidence presented by the prosecution or as confirming presumptions that might have been rebutted.”

    Prima Facie case under section 106 of the Evidence Act

    Prima facie means “at first sight”, “at first view", or "based on first impression".

    In legal proceedings, it signifies the initial evidence presented by one party (typically the plaintiff or prosecutor) to establish the essential elements of charges against the defendant.

    The Court relied on Ram Gulam Chaudhary and Others v. State of Bihar (2001) 8 SCC 311 which held that Section 106 of the Evidence Act may not relieve the prosecution of its burden, but it is applicable when facts are established, and the accused, with special knowledge, does not provide an alternative explanation.

    It opined that “Even though Section 106 of the Evidence Act may not be intended to relieve the prosecution of its burden to prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt, the section would apply to cases where the prosecution has succeeded in proving facts from which a reasonable inference can be drawn regarding death. The appellants by virtue of their special knowledge must offer an explanation which might lead the Court to draw a different inference.”

    In the present case, the court was convinced that the deceased was in the company of her husband(the appellant) at a point in time when something went wrong with her health, and therefore, in such circumstances, the appellant alone knew what happened to her until she was with him.

    Failure to offer any plausible explanation in the statement under Section 313, CrPC

    The Court noted that despite the appellant's claim that he promptly took his ailing wife to Sanjay Gandhi Hospital in Delhi, there exists no substantial evidence to support this account. The appellant remained silent about the circumstances of taking his wife to the hospital, who attended to her, and whether any legal formalities were completed.

    The Court relied on the landmark case of Deonandan Mishra v. The State of Bihar AIR 1955 SC 801 which dealt with the effect of failure of the accused to offer any explanation for circumstances appearing in evidence against him in a prosecution based upon circumstantial evidence.

    The Apex Court had observed, “In a case where the various links have been satisfactorily made out and the circumstances point to the accused as the probable assailant, with reasonable definiteness and in proximity to the deceased as regards time and situation, and he offers no explanation, which, if accepted, though not proved, would afford a reasonable basis for a conclusion on the entire case consistent with his innocence, such absence of explanation or false explanation would itself be an additional link which completes the chain.

    The court found that this observation strongly applies to the present case.

    Furthermore, the judgment referred to Kalu alias Laxminarayan v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2019) 10 SCC 211, which emphasized that once the prosecution has established a prima facie case, the accused must furnish some explanation, especially under Section 313 of the CrPC.

    In light of the above, the court dismissed the appeal.

    Case title: Balvir Singh v. State of Uttarakhand

    Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 861

    Click Here To Read/Download Judgment

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