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Accomplice Evidence Under Indian Evidence Act 1872

Introduction

In any trial, evidence is considered as the most important part as it is helped by proving the facts, whether it is right or wrong. Based on evidence an accused can be either convicted or acquitted. Under evidence law, any evidence shall be considered admissible if it is relevant with respect to the subject matter.

According to Black Law’s Dictionary, ‘accomplice’ is a person who has taken part in an act for which he will be liable in that criminal act, by way of his presence at the place of crime, even if he was absent from that place while it was committed because he was responsible for abetting or aiding the crime. The evidence provided by the accomplice is usually considered untrustworthy but due to his involvement in the case when there are no witnesses his evidence with the help of corroboration can be admitted.

Who is an Accomplice Under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872

The term accomplice has not been defined under the Indian Evidence Act therefore while deciding a case the Judiciary tends to use the literal meaning of the term, as it is presumed that the intention of the legislature was the same. In the case of Chandan v. Emperor[1], the court while deciding the case defined the term accomplice and stated that he is the one who is involved with the offender or offenders “in the commission of a crime or the one who voluntarily helps other offenders in the commission of the crime”.[2] The court further stated that accomplice includes particeps criminis that mean a partner in crime. Also in the case of R.K.Dalmia v. Delhi Administration[3], the Supreme Court while defining the term accomplice said that an accomplice is a person who participates in the commission of a crime.

Section 133 of the Indian Evidence Act,1872, “An accomplice shall be a competent witness against an accused person; and a conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice.[4]

In Jagannath v. Emperor [5], the court stated that if a person is associated with a criminal act or who is connected with the commission of the offence, he is known as an accomplice. Further, the Supreme Court of India in the case Shankar v. State of Tamil Nadu[6] held that at the time when the accomplice converts into an approver he will be used as a prosecution witness. But the evidence given by the approver does not have any evidentiary value until it is proven that the evidence is reliable a second the testimony given by him has to be corroborated.

Categorization of Accomplice

There are three modes by which an accomplice can take part in the crime, first principles in the first degree or second degree, second accessories before the fact and lastly accessories after the fact.

1. Principles in the first and second degree

A person who commits the crime is considered as the principle of first degree whereas if a person who is only present and assisting during the crime is known as the principle of the second degree. In the case of Ismail v. Emperor[7], it was held that a person is considered as an accomplice under both the first and the second degree.

2. Accessories before the facts

A person who abets, insights, encourages or procures the commission of the crime and does not participate in the criminal act is an accessory before the fact. If the accomplice only has the knowledge of the crime and does not participate further, they are not considered as an accomplice. Therefore, in the case of Jagannath v. Emperor, the court said that a person will be considered as an accomplice if the crime for which the accused is tried are the same.

3. Accessories after the facts

A person who protects the accused after knowing that he has committed the crime and further helps him from being arrested as well as from being punished, he is a known harbourer. Three conditions need to be fulfilled to be considered as an accessory after the fact, the crime must be complete, secondly, the accessory must know about the crime being committed and lastly, the accessory must assist the principal accused.

Evidentiary Value of an Accomplice – The Need for Corroboration

Due to the status of the accomplice, the testimony given by him is not considered as a reliable piece of evidence convicting any accused and therefore it is required as per the Evidence Act to verify the testimony corroboration with other material evidence is necessary. Corroborate is nowhere defined and as per the Black Law’s dictionary, it means to strengthen, to make a statement or testimony more credible by confirming facts or evidence”.[8]To strengthen any evidence and increase its evidentiary value corroborative evidence is used and is also understood as a supplementary testimony.

The testimony of an accomplice is required to be corroborated by independent evidence therefore statements recorded as per section 164 of CRPC of the accomplice cannot be used for corroboration, as it is stated in the case of Bhuboni Sahu v. the King[9] that an accomplice cannot corroborate himself. Further, it was held in the case of Mahadev v. King[10] that evidence provided by one accomplice cannot be considered as corroborating evidence for the other accomplice.

The Effect of Section 114 on Section 133 of Evidence Act

The reason behind not considering the evidence provided by the accomplice is that to protect himself he may go against the co-accused, but this does not mean that the court cannot rely on the evidence of the accomplice. That is why section 133 has to be read with illustration b of section 114[11]. According to Section 133, the conviction of the accused can be done with the help of uncorroborated testimony given by the accomplice and the same is not illegal but illustration b of section 114 has indicated a rule-based upon which now it is a settled principle of law that there is a need for corroboration of evidence given by the accomplice. In the case of the State of Rajasthan v. Bal Veera[12], the court held that an accomplice will be presumed unworthy until and unless the evidence or testimony provided by him is corroborated by some other material evidence.

Nature and scope of corroboration

Corroboration of the evidence given by the accomplice is different in each case and this is the reason behind no such concept of a single rule for the same and the nature and the scope of corroboration vary from case to case. But, to make corroboration simple the court in the case of R v. Basker Ville[13]laid down some principles-

1. To prove the evidence provided by the accomplice it is not required to confirm every detail of the case through independent evidence, but “indeed if it were required that the accomplice should be confirmed in every detail of the crime, his evidence would not be essential in the case”.[14]Further, what is required is that the evidence provided by the accomplice should be supported by some credible piece of evidence and the same should implicate the accused.

2. The second requirement is that the evidence which is provided by the accomplice should be supported by some material evidence and that evidence must reasonably connect with the crime as well as the accused.

3. Corroboration of evidence given by the accomplice does not mean that the corroborating evidence should only be considered if it is direct rather circumstantial evidence can also be considered for the same.

4. “The corroboration must be by some evidence other than that of another accomplice”.[15]

There are two kinds of corroboration of an accomplice-

1. Firstly, the corroborating evidence must guarantee that the approval is reliable.

2. Secondly, the material particulars of the corroborating evidence should not only describe the commission of the crime but also states that the accused is related to the crime.

In the case of Sarwan Singh v. the State of Punjab[16], the Supreme Court held that according to the Indian Evidence Act, the accomplice is a competent witness.

Conclusion

To conclude the evidence or testimony provided by an accomplice can be taken into consideration only if, according to the general practice of Courts the same has been corroborated by some material piece of evidence and the same has been laid down under illustration b of section 114 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 which has to be read along with section 133 of the Evidence Act. The reason behind not taking into consideration the evidence of an accomplice is that he is involved in the commission of the crime with the accused in some way or the other and it is presumed that to save himself he can go against the co-accused. Due to which there arose a need to corroborate his evidence. It is indeed true that the evidence given by the accomplice is untrustworthy but he is considered as a competent witness under the Evidence Act. This is why corroboration is important. Lastly, the scope of corroboration of evidence given by the accomplice varies from case to case.

[1] AIR 1930 ALL 274

[2] Ibid

[3] 1962 AIR 1821

[4] The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Section 133, Accomplice.

[5] AIR 1942 OUDH 221

[6] 1994 SCC (4) 478

[7] AIR 1947 LAH 220

[8]  Diganth Raj Sehgal, “Why is Evidence given by an Accomplice not trustworthy?”, (26.3.2020), https://blog.ipleaders.in/evidence-given-accomplice-not-trustworthy/ accessed on 29.05.2021.

[9] AIR 1949 PC 257

[10] AIR1936SC242

[11] The Indian Evidence Act,1872, Section 114- Court may presume the existence of certain facts, Illustration b- That an accomplice is unworthy of credit unless he is corroborated in material particulars

[12] AIR 2014 SC 1117

[13] (1916) 2 KB658

[14] Batuk Lal, “The Law of Evidence”, Twenty-second edition, central law agency, page no.639

[15] Ibid, Page no. 640

[16] 1957 AIR 637

This article has been written by Lity Manisha, 5th Year BA.LLB student at Alliance University, Bangalore.

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