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Mere presence or absence of a large number of witnesses cannot be the basis of conviction : Supreme Court

The quality of witnesses should be the criteria under Section 134 of the Evidence Act, rather than the number of witnesses, considering how common it is for witnesses to turn hostile in a trial. This remarkable judgement was passed by the bench consisting of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hrishikesh Roy of the Supreme Court in the matter of Jayantilal Verma v State of MP, [CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 590 of 2015].

After the death of a lady in her matrimonial house, her brother alleged that the husband had murdered his sister. The couple had been married for 8 years and the brother alleged that his sister had off late been complaining of being harassed at the hands of her in laws and husband.

The post mortem reported suggested the death was caused due to asphyxiation owing to being strangled. Several witnesses turned hostile due to familial relations and the only reliable evidence remaining was the post mortem report and testimony of the doctor who conducted the post mortem and the husband himself. Earlier, the husband alleged that all members residing in the house were outside doing their work when the lady died. After going through the evidence, it was obvious that the marks on her neck and surrounding parts prove it was the case of strangulation. While giving his testimony, he added the fact that she died of a snakebite, which was also further completely negated by the post mortem report.

The trial court convicted the husband while acquitting the mother in law. The father in law passed away during the trial. On the basis of the acquittal of the mother in law, the counsel for the appellant argued that his client was not proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt and challenged the decision of the Trial Court.

The high court on the key witnesses turning hostile opined, “We are conscious that the case of the prosecution rests only on the testimony of PW-1 and the medical evidence. The statement of PW-1 was consistent and cogent except to the extent that in the earlier statement he had not mentioned the factum of the death being attributed to snakebite. However, that itself would not nullify the remaining part of his testimony. In fact, the said witness did not back out from the statement, but could not state the reason why the police did not record it in the FIR though it was mentioned”.

 Further, in light of the death taking place within the four walls of the matrimonial house, the court observed, “In our view, the most important aspect is where the death was caused and the body found. It was in the precincts of the house of the appellant herein where there were only family members staying. The High Court also found that the location of the house and the surrounding buildings was such that there was no possibility of somebody from outside coming and strangulating the deceased and that too without any commotion being caused or any valuable/jewellery missing.

We are confronted with a factual situation where the appellant  herein, as a husband is alleged to have caused the death of his wife by strangulation. The fact that the family members were in the home some time before is also quite obvious. No explanation has been given as to how the wife could have received the injuries. This is a strong circumstance indicating that he is responsible for commission of the crime. explanation regarding the cause of the death in the statement recorded under Section 313 of the Cr.P.C. and mere denial could not be the answer in such a situation”.

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