Minor discrepancies in witness’s statement will not make it entirely inadmissible: High Court of Orissa

Statements of witnesses are used to connect different aspect of a case together and to establish the truth in a trial. Minor discrepancies in matters not central to the crime need not be given too much importance because witnesses cannot be expected to have a perfect memory of the incident. This was held in the judgement passed by a bench consisting of Justice S.K Mishra and Justice Savitri Ratho of the High Court of Orissa in the case of Mohan Sabar and others v State of Orissa [CLRA No.49 of 2002] on 11th June 2021.

On 4th October 2000, Brajsundar Sabar was lying on a cot in his house while his wife and children were sleeping in the next bedroom. In the middle of the night, the appellant, Mohan Sabar and his accomplices, Prahlad and Durja were seen assaulting Brajsundar using an axe but the victim’s wife was not able to leave her room out of fear. After the victim’s death, the appellants fled the scene. The deceased’s wife filed a first information report for the offence of murder under Section 302/34 of the Indian Penal Code. A total of 14 witnesses were questioned in the criminal trial including the family of the deceased who identified the faces of the appellants, doctors who conducted the autopsy and also other people from the village who had seen the appellant with a similar axe earlier that day. Considering all the evidence against them which built a strong case, the appellants were convicted by an Additional Sessions Judge in S.C. Case No, 41/14 of 2001 on 15th July 2002 for murder under Section 302/34 of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The appellants assailed their conviction and stated that the statement made by the deceased’s wife should not be considered as it was contradictory. The appellants contended that the deceased’s wife stated that it was a very dark night yet she was able to identify the faces of her husband’s murders which should make her statement invalid before the court. The court cited the case of Bharwada Bhoginibhai Hirjibhai v State of Gujarat [AIR 1983 SC 753] where the Supreme Court of India held that “Too much importance cannot be attached to minor discrepancies and a witness cannot be expected to possess a photographic memory to recall the details of an incident”.

Justice S.K. Mishra stated that even honest witnesses may differ in some minor details unrelated to the main incident because the power of observation, retention and reproduction are different in different individuals. It was also added that the testimonies of the witnesses was logical and enough to establish a case against the accused so minor contradictions need not be given much importance. The judgement concluded that “While examining and appreciating of evidence of P.W.1, who happens to be the widow of the deceased, the fact cannot be ignored that she is not found to have any axe to grind against the appellant. She being the widow of the deceased shall also not implicate some innocent persons in commission of the crime and thereby letting real culprits go scot free”

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