26 Sep 2010

Wife of deceased not an interested witness: Supreme Court

The law of evidence requires credibility of witness and the evidence against the accused to be unimpeachable so as to convict the accused. In this scenario often the evidence is discredited on the ground that the witness is interested i.e. there are reasons extrenaous to the trail for the witness to lead in this evidence and the evidence so tendered may not be free from bias. However in a recent decision [Myladimmal Surendran v. State of Kerala] the Supreme Court has declared that the mere fact that the person giving the evidence is the wife of the deceased it not sufficient to hold that the witness is an 'interested witness' to as to reduce the credibility of the evidence. 

The Bench explained the law inter alia in the following terms;
27. In our opinion, the evidence given by the wife of the deceased in this case was unimpeachable. It could not be discarded, as stated by the learned senior counsel on the basis that she was an interested witness. If such a wide proposition was to be accepted the evidence of all the witnesses who were relatives of a victim of a violent crime would be rendered unacceptable. Merely because PW1 happens to be the wife of  the deceased would not justify her being branded as an interested witnesses. The evidence of the wife is followed by the consistent evidence given by PW2 and PW3. This is further corroborated by the dying declaration made by the injured within minutes of being assaulted. In such circumstances, it would be difficult to accept the submissions of the learned senior counsel that the evidence of the eye-witnesses ought to be disbelieved.
28. In our opinion, the High Court rightly rejected the submission, which was also reiterated before us, that the evidence of PW2 and PW3 should be rejected on the ground that they were chance as well as the partisan witnesses. 
29. We may at this stage notice the observations made by this Court in the case of State of Rajasthan Vs. Smt. Kalki and Another [(1981) 2 SCC 752] which is as under:-
“True, it is she is the wife of the deceased, but she cannot be called an ‘interested’ witness. She is related to the deceased. ‘Related’ is not equivalent to ‘interested’. A witness may be called ‘interested’ only when he or she derives some benefit from the result of a litigation; in the decree in a civil case or in seeing an accused person punished. A witness who is a natural one and is the only possible eye witness in the circumstances of a case cannot be said to be ‘interested’ in the instant case PW1 had no interest in protecting the real culprit, and falsely implicating the respondents.”
30. In our opinion, the aforesaid observations are fully applicable to the evidence of the PW1 in this case. Similarly, the evidence of PW2 and PW3 cannot be brushed aside as chance witnesses. It has come in evidence that the deceased was the LIC agent. PW2 wanted to take a loan from the LIC for construction of his house. He, therefore, went to meet the deceased at his house. He was accompanied by his friend PW3. Both of them left the house of the deceased in the circumstances narrated above and clearly witnessed the second assault on the deceased. This Court had occasion to disapprove the attitude of casually branding material witnesses to crimes of violence as chance witnesses in the case of Sachchey Lal Tiwari Vs. State of U.P. [(2004) 11 SCC 410]. It was observed as follows:-
“Murders are not committed with previous notice to witnesses, soliciting their presence. If murder is committed in a dwelling house, the inmates of the house are natural witnesses. If murder is committed in a street, only passerby will be witnesses. Their evidence cannot be brushed aside or viewed with suspicion on the ground that they are mere ‘chance witnesses’. The expression ‘chance witness’ is borrowed from countries where every man’s home is considered his castle and everyone must have an explanation for his presence elsewhere or in another man’s castle. It is quite unsuitable an expression in a country where people are less formal and more casual, at any rate in the matter of explaining their presence.”
31. In our opinion, these observations of this court are of tremendous relevance given the cultural ethos of this country. For the same reasons, we are unable to accept the submission of the learned senior counsel that the evidence of the PW3 ought to be rejected on the ground that they are partisan witnesses. Merely because PW2 and PW3 are sympathizers of BJP, their evidence cannot be brushed aside. At best, their evidence has to be carefully scrutinized. On such careful scrutiny of the evidence the trial court and the High Court have clearly and in our opinion rightly concluded that the evidence of these witnesses could not be discarded. 

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