Trial courts cannot discard the evidence of witnesses just because they happen to be relatives of murdered persons, the Supreme Court has ruled.
A vacation Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and A.K. Patnaik said: “There is no bar on accepting the evidence of related witnesses. Merely because the witnesses are related to the complainant or the deceased, their evidence cannot be thrown out. If their evidence is found consistent and true, the fact of their being relatives cannot by itself discredit their evidence.”
Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “The evidence of an interested witness does not suffer from any infirmity as such, but the courts require as a rule of prudence — not as a rule of law — that the evidence of such witnesses be scrutinised with a little care. Once that approach is made and the court is satisfied that the evidence of the interested witness has a ring of truth, such evidence could be relied upon even without corroboration. If after a careful analysis and scrutiny of their evidence, the version given by them appears clear, cogent and credible, there is no reason to discard the same.”
The Bench, after analysing a series of earlier judgments, said: “When the eyewitnesses are stated to be interested in and inimically disposed to the accused, it has to be noted that it would not be proper to conclude that they would shield the real culprit and rope in innocent persons. The truth or otherwise of the evidence has to be weighed pragmatically, and the court would be required to analyse the evidence of related witnesses and those witnesses who are inimically disposed to the accused. Relationship cannot be a factor to affect the credibility of an eyewitness.”
In the instant case, Waman and 10 others were awarded life imprisonment by a trial court in Maharashtra in a case of murder of two persons. The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court confirmed their conviction and sentence. Four of the 11 accused challenged the High Court’s order, chiefly on the ground that the crucial evidence given by women members of the family of the complainant, being close relatives, could not be relied upon for their conviction.
Rejecting the appellants’ contention and dismissing the appeal, the Bench said: “It is important to note that the evidence of all the witnesses is corroborated by medical evidence. It is true that there is some variance in the testimony…describing [a] particular weapon held by the persons and [the] injuries on the body of the deceased. However, as rightly analysed by the trial court and accepted by the High Court, the testimony of these witnesses is convincing and trustworthy…, and there is no reason to disbelieve their statements.” Hindu