26 Oct 2010

Strength of medical evidence over witness: The law revisited

In a criminal trial a witness is often pitted against the medical evidence (being expert evidence allowed to be led in terms of Indian Evidence Act, 1872) where the witness only has memory-recall to this aid whereas the medical expert is fitted with all the post-incident analysis via the scientific apparatus at his command. However, the law in India to this regard is settled that the statement of the witness will generally take precedence over medical evidence unless both are completely at odds.

The Supreme Court in a recent decision revisited the issue to declare the law inter alia as under;
30. In Ram Narain Singh v. State of Punjab, AIR 1975 SC 1727, this Court held that where the evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution is totally inconsistent with the medical evidence or the evidence of the ballistics expert, it amounts to a fundamental defect in the prosecution’s  case and unless reasonably explained it is sufficient to discredit the entire case.
31. In State of Haryana v. Bhagirath & Ors., (1999) 5 SCC 96, it was held as follows:-
“The opinion given by a medical witness need not be the last word on the subject. Such an opinion shall be tested by the court. If the opinion is bereft of logic or objectivity, the court is not obliged to go by that opinion. After all opinion is what is formed in the mind of a person regarding a fact situation. If one doctor forms one opinion and another doctor forms a different opinion on the same facts it is open to the Judge to adopt the view which is more objective or probable. Similarly if the opinion given by one doctor is not consistent with probability the court has no liability to go by that opinion merely because it is said by the doctor. Of course, due weight must be given to opinions given by persons who are experts in the particular subject.”
32. Drawing on Bhagirath’s case (supra.), this Court has held that where the medical evidence is at variance with ocular evidence, it has to be noted that it would be erroneous to accord undue primacy to the hypothetical answers of medical witnesses to exclude the eyewitnesses’ account which had to be tested independently and not treated as the “variable” keeping the medical evidence as the “constant”. Where the eyewitnesses’ account is found credible and trustworthy, a medical opinion pointing to alternative possibilities can not be accepted as conclusive. The eyewitnesses’ account requires a careful independent assessment and evaluation for its credibility, which should not be adversely prejudged on the basis of any other evidence, including medical evidence, as the sole touchstone for the test of such credibility. The evidence must be tested for its inherent consistency and the inherent probability of the story; consistency with the account of other witnesses held to be creditworthy; consistency with the undisputed facts, the “credit” of the witnesses; their performance in the witness box; their power of observation etc. Then the probative value of such evidence becomes eligible to be put into the scales for a cumulative evaluation. (Vide Thaman Kumar v. State of Union Territory of Chandigarh, (2003) 6 SCC 380; and Krishnan v. State, (2003) 7 SCC 56).
33. In Solanki Chimanbhai Ukabhai v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1983 SC 484, this Court observed,
“Ordinarily, the value of medical evidence is only corroborative. It proves that the injuries could have been caused in the manner alleged and nothing more. The use which the defence can make of the medical evidence is to prove that the injuries could not possibly have been caused in the manner alleged and thereby discredit the eye-witnesses. Unless, however the medical evidence in its turn goes so far that it completely rules out all possibilities whatsoever of injuries taking place in the manner alleged by eyewitnesses, the testimony of the eye-witnesses cannot be thrown out on the ground of alleged inconsistency between it and the medical evidence.”
34. A similar view has been taken in Mani Ram & Ors. v. State of U.P., 1994 Supp (2) SCC 289; Khambam Raja Reddy & Anr. v. Public Prosecutor, High Court of A.P., (2006) 11 SCC 239; and State of U.P. v. Dinesh, (2009) 11 SCC 566.
35. In State of U.P. v. Hari Chand, (2009) 13 SCC 542, this Court reiterated the aforementioned position of law and stated that, “In any event unless the oral evidence is totally irreconcilable with the medical evidence, it has primacy.”
36. Thus, the position of law in cases where there is a contradiction between medical evidence and ocular evidence can be crystallised to the effect that though the ocular testimony of a witness has greater evidentiary value vis-à-vis medical evidence, when medical evidence makes the ocular testimony improbable, that becomes a relevant factor in the process of the evaluation of evidence. However, where the medical evidence goes so far that it completely rules out all possibility of the ocular evidence being true, the ocular evidence may be disbelieved.

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