oppn parties Minor Inconsistencies Do Not Make A Witness Unreliable

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Minor Inconsistencies Do Not Make A Witness Unreliable

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 a judgment that will have far reaching consequences in criminal cases in trial courts, the Supreme Court has said that since no criminal case can be free of minor shortcomings, minor inconsistencies in evidence, if they do not go to the root of the matter, should not be given importance. The court upheld the conviction of Shamim, who was accused of getting the mother-in-law and brother-in-law of her daughter murdered. The defence tried to show that there were inconsistencies in the statements of major witnesses, one of whom was the daughter of the accused. The court categorically said that “minor omissions in the police statements are never considered to be fatal. The statements given by the witnesses before the police are meant to be brief statements and could not take place of evidence in the court. Small/Trivial omissions would not justify a finding by court that the witnesses concerned are liars.”

The apex court was also of the view that it needs moral conviction for a daughter to depose against her mother and since the witness was not changing her base testimony, she could not be termed unreliable just on the basis of minor inconsistencies. On the other hand, a prime witness who was just 13 years old at that time and was injured when the murders took place could not be held unreliable on the same account. The court said that “She broke down during her evidence and cross-examination recalling the occurrence. Her cross-examination had to be deferred on more than one date. Notwithstanding the gruelling nature of her cross-examination which runs into approximately 14 pages, she withstood the same tenaciously. Her presence at the place of occurrence and injury caused during the occurrence has stood unshaken. The appellant was the only woman present. The question for the confusion of identity simply does not arise. The witness in her cross-examination specifically denied having been tutored, and from her evidence we find no reason to disbelieve her. There may be some inconsistencies in her evidence, minor and trivial in nature. But that cannot erase her credibility as a reliable witness to the occurrence.”

The court was of the view that if the evidence of the witness read as a whole inspires confidence about reliability; courts should not delve into minor inconsistencies. The court said “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.”

This judgment will empower trial court judges to reject interventions by lawyers on trivial and technical issues that do not go to the root of the case. This is welcome as it will speed up the judicial process as trial court judges will now warn lawyers if they try to prolong cases on trivial matters.