oppn parties Evidence Cannot Be Rubbished For Minor Discrepancies, Says Supreme Court

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Sunni Wakf Board and Nirvani Akhara write to the Supreme Court for a negotiated settlement to the Ayodhya dispute
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Evidence Cannot Be Rubbished For Minor Discrepancies, Says Supreme Court

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.
In an important judgment, the Supreme Court has said that few criminal cases can be free of shortcomings. But, the court said, that does mean that the accused can take advantage of small and insignificant inconsistencies in the evidence presented by the prosecution. This is most welcome as lawyers often used this route to get their clients off the hook. Judges in the trial court were bombarded with petitions over this or that small inconsistency and trials were prolonged or the accused were even let off. After this judgment by the apex court, trial court judges will be able to dismiss the interventions by defence lawyers at their discretion.

The Supreme Court has been categorical in its stand. It said “the prosecution evidence may suffer from inconsistencies here and discrepancies there, but that is a shortcoming from which no criminal case is free. The main thing to be seen is whether those inconsistencies go to the root of the matter or to insignificant aspects thereof. In the former case, the defence may be justified in seeking advantage of incongruities obtaining in the evidence. In the latter, however, no such benefit may be available to it.”

In the instant case, Shamim versus State (GNCT of Delhi), Shamim, the mother of Shabnam, who married Ishrat Ali against her wishes, was accused of killing the brother and mother of Ishrat Ali and seriously injuring his sister Heena. The trial court acquitted her but when the State appealed in the High Court, she was convicted on a re-appreciation of evidence. The defence contended before the Supreme Court that the daughter Shabnam and the victim Heena, who was just 13 when the crime took place, were unreliable witnesses as their depositions had inconsistencies. The defence also contended that since there was no change in evidence, the High Court had erred in convicting Shamim.

But the Supreme Court highlighted two things. It said that a daughter will only depose against her mother if she is doubly sure that she has committed the crime. The court said that it will take “great courage of conviction and moral strength” for a person to depose against a close relative, especially her mother. In respect of the deposition of the 13-year old witness, the court said that despite the severe mental trauma, the young girl withstood the grueling cross-examination tenaciously and was unshaken in her recounting of the sequence of events. Hence, the court said that minor inconsistencies did not matter and it had no reason to disbelieve her.

The court forcefully said that the thing to look out for is whether the evidence of a witness as a whole inspires confidence. The court added that “once that impression is formed, it is undoubtedly necessary for the court to scrutinize the evidence more particularly keeping in view the deficiencies, drawbacks and infirmities pointed out in the evidence as a whole and evaluate them to find out whether it is against the general tenor of the evidence and whether the earlier evaluation of the evidence is shaken as to render it unworthy of belief. Minor discrepancies on trivial matters not touching the core of the case, hyper-technical approach by taking sentences torn out of context here or there from the evidence, attaching importance to some technical error without going to the root of the matter would not ordinarily permit rejection of the evidence as a whole”.