2 Aug 2023 3:17 PM GMT
The Supreme Court recently reiterated that a newspaper report is only hearsay evidence and it can only be treated as secondary evidence under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.A division bench of Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice Pankaj Mithal, while setting aside the sentence of life imprisonment awarded to two appellants accused of murder due to insufficient evidence,...
The Supreme Court recently reiterated that a newspaper report is only hearsay evidence and it can only be treated as secondary evidence under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
A division bench of Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice Pankaj Mithal, while setting aside the sentence of life imprisonment awarded to two appellants accused of murder due to insufficient evidence, observed:
“….an extrajudicial confession cannot be given greater credibility only because it is published in a newspaper and is available to the public at large. It is well-established in law that newspaper reports can at best be treated as secondary evidence.”
The Apex Court in this regard placed reliance on Laxmi Raj Shetty & Anr. v. State of Tamil Nadu, (1988) 3 SCC 319 which had held that:
“A report in a newspapers is only hearsay evidence. A newspaper is not one of the documents referred to in s. 78(2) of the Evidence Act, 1872 by which an allegation of fact can be proved. The presumption of genuineness attached under s. 81 of the Evidence Act to a newspapers report cannot be treated as proved of the facts reported therein.”
The Top Court was hearing two appeals challenging a 2009 order of the High Court that had awarded life imprisonment to the appellants (Accused 1 and Accused 3) by convicting them under Section 302 read with Section 112 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. The appellants had been accused of murdering the victim by shooting him down.
The Top Court noted that the conviction of the 1st Accused was primarily based on the testimony of a correspondent for a Kannada Daily. The correspondent who was examined as Prosecution Witness-21 (PW-21) claimed that he visited the District Jail and interviewed the 1st and 8th Accused inside the Jail premises. He claimed that the accused persons told him about their role in the incident. On the basis of this interaction, he published a report in the newspaper.
However, the Apex Court observed that it was not him, but the sub editor of the paper who had directly interacted with the accused persons. PW-21 was talking to other under trial prisoners and only overheard A-1 and A-8 while they gave their accounts to the editor, the Court observed. The Court also noted that despite this, the editor was not examined. The Top Court disagreed with the conclusion of the High Court that a newspaper report pertaining to an extra judicial confession had more credibility as it was information disseminated to the public at large:
“To base the conviction of the A-1 on the testimony of PW-21 would in our opinion be unmerited as PW-21 had no direct conversation either with A-1 or with A-8 as per his own version and was talking with some other under-trial prisoners at the relevant time in the jail premises. The High Court while adverting to the evidence of PW-21 noted that A-1 and A-8 had made extra-judicial confession inside the jail about causing death of Shanmugam, because of political rivalry. While noting that the prosecution has not produced the jail records to prove the visit of PW-21 to the jail, only because PW-21 had reported the interview and the so-called extra-judicial confession of A-1 and A-8 in his newspaper, the Court had decided to base the conviction of A-1 on the evidence of PW-21. Surprisingly, the High Court noted that the newspaper report regarding extra-judicial confession carries greater credibility because the information is made open to public at large.” the Apex Court observed.
Accused No. 3, who was the driver of the car was convicted because the car had slowed down and then sped away after the shooting incident that killed the victim. The Top Court observed that when all the other occupants in the car were given the benefit of doubt and acquitted, such benefit of doubt should have been extended to the 3rd accused as well, especially when reliance was placed on the same set of evidence.
The High Court had also relied on the evidence of the Doctor (PW-8) who had claimed that PW-1 had brought the victim to the hospital. This testimony was contrary to the testimony of PW-40 who stated that PW-1 was with him in his house, which was half a kilometer away. The High Court had said that this contradiction might have been out of ‘sheer inadvertence’. However the Supreme Court held that the High Court erred in holding so:
“Such assumption could not have been so lightly drawn by the High Court to convict the accused for murder, by brushing aside the inconsistent testimony of PW-1 with the testimony of his own brother i.e., PW-40 by saying that it could be a matter of sheer inadvertence. Such assumption by the High Court we feel is unwarranted particularly in a situation where the prosecution must prove the case beyond all reasonable doubt.” The Apex Court observed.
Ultimately, the Apex Court allowed the appeals and acquitted the appellants, as the evidence against them was ‘inadequate’:
“In our considered opinion, the appellants have succeeded in making out a case of inadequate evidence to sustain their conviction under the impugned judgment of the High Court. Accordingly, having regard to the above discussion and also the unacceptable evidence, we deem it appropriate to order for acquittal of both Kadira Jeevan (A-1) and B.S. Dinesh (A-3).”
Senior Advocate Dama Seshadri Naidu, who appeared for one appellant, during his arguments invoked the famous quote of Mark Twain : "If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.”
Sr. Adv. Dama Seshadri Naidu, and Adv. Pai Amit, appeared for the 1st Accused. Adv. N.S. Nappinai and Adv. V. Balaji appeared for the 3rd Accused and AAG Nishant Patil appeared for the State of Karnataka.
Case Title: Dinesh B.S V. State of Karnataka, Criminal Appeal No. 851 Of 2011
Citation : 2023 LiveLaw (SC) 594
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