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Mere circumstantial evidence cannot be a basis for conviction: Sikkim High Court

Circumstantial evidence cannot be the basis for conviction, and if it is to be the basis for so, then it must successfully rule out every other possibility, beyond reasonable doubt, wherein the accused is innocent. The High Court of Sikkim bench, consisting of Hon’ble Chief Justice Arup Kumar Goswami and Hon’ble Justice Bhaskar Raj Pradhan, decided upon the matters of reasonable doubt and circumstantial evidence under Section 25, 26 and 27 of the Evidence Act, in the case of Mani Kumar Rai @ Tere Naam v. State of Sikkim [Crl. A. No. 04 of 2020].

On 15.06.2017, complaint was registered under Section 174 of the Cr.P.C. regarding the death  of Krishna Prasad Rai, whose dead body was found in a forest area. After the investigation and post mortem was held the next morning, it was concluded that the death of the person was unnatural and homicidal. An FIR was registered under Section 302 IPC against an unknown person. After the examination of the witnesses and based on the revelations made, the appellant was arrested. Based on the Disclosure Statement made by the accused under Section 27 of the Evidence Act, the weapon of offence, a Khukuri (kind of knife) was seized. On completion of the investigation, the accused was framed under Section 302 IPC by the Sessions Court, to which the accused pleaded not guilty and claimed to be tried. The Sessions Judge opined that the circumstantial evidence clearly pointed out that the accused had committed the crimes with pre-mediation, intention and knowledge. It was also recorded that it was proved that the accused had confessed the crime to a few witnesses, upon which the Trial Court held him guilty as reasonable doubt was established.

The learned counsel for the appellant submitted in the High Court that the Trial Court had erred in its findings since the evidence of witnesses suffered from major contradictions. The Public Prosecutor, placing reliance on Sahoo v. State of U.P. [AIR 1963 SC 40], submitted that the witness and the weapon had established beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was with the deceased before his death.

The High Court’s remarks on the Disclosure Statement were such that “The policy underlying Section 25 and 26 of the Evidence Act is to make it a substantive rule of law that confession whenever and wherever made to the police or while in the custody of the police to any person whosoever, unless made in the immediate presence of a Magistrate shall be presumed to have been obtained under the circumstances mentioned in Section 24 and therefore, inadmissible, except so far as provided by Section 27 of the Act. Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act is based on the view that if a fact is actually discovered in consequence of information given, some guarantee is afforded thereby that the information was true, and accordingly can be safely allowed to be given in evidence”. Further, relying on Sharad Birdhichand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra [(1984) 4 SCC 116], the HC stated that “The evidence adduced by the prosecution is circumstantial in nature with no direct proof of the perpetration of the alleged offence by the appellant. It is no longer res integra that circumstantial evidence if is to form the basis of conviction must be such so as to rule out every possible hypothesis of innocence of the accused and must without any element of doubt unerringly point to such culpability”, and the appeal was allowed.

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