Doctrine of Res Gestae under Indian Evidence Act, 1872

Introduction

The Law of Evidence is a system of rules for ascertaining controverted questions of fact in judicial proceedings or inquiries. The Indian law of evidence is enumerated in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The Act, although colonial, holds substantive value even in the present legal system. It would be absolutely impractical to discuss the Law of Evidence without mentioning the Doctrine of Res Gestae, as it is one of the most important exceptions to the rule of hearsay. The doctrine does not fail to get a noteworthy mention in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. One may even call it a paradox the rule of hearsay that says that hearsay evidence may not be admissible in court.

Meaning of Res Gestae

The Doctrine of Res Gestae is a Latin word that literally means ‘things done’. It accounts for a spontaneous declaration made by a person promptly after an event and before the human mind has an opportunity to conjure a false story. A statement made under Res Gestae is made at the spur of the moment, i.e., during the commission of the crime or right after the commission of the crime. This leaves very less room for doubts and ambiguities. The doctrine of Res Gestae is a declaration that is in close connection with the commission of the event that leaves nearly no room for misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Res Gestae in relation to Hearsay

As per Black’s Law Dictionary, hearsay could be defined as “A term applied to that species of testimony given by a witness who relates, not what he knows personally, but what others have told him or what he has heard said by others.” It may also be referred to as “second-hand evidence”.  Hearsay may be oral, written, can be in the form of gestures or may even in the form of silence. Under usual circumstances, hearsay is considered inadmissible in court. It is believed that the Doctrine of Res Gestae is an exception to the Hearsay law. For instance, during the commission of a burglary, one of the neighbours happens to see the burglar breaking out of the house with some possession in a bag around his shoulder and screams “Wake Up! Wake Up There’s a Burglar!” in order to alarm the others. When the said neighbour would be called as a witness at the trial to testify against the burglar, his statement would be admissible in court. This is because he made such a declaration at the exact moment when he saw the burglar breaking out of the house right after the crime unfolded. In the aforesaid example, since the neighbour screamed and alerted others ‘on the sight of the burglar breaking out with some possession’, his statement would be considered admissible in court.

Indian Evidence Act

A plausible effort was made by the framers of the Indian Evidence Act (further referred to as “Act”) to absorb The Doctrine of Res Gestae in the Act. Section 6 of the Act solely deals with the application of res gestae. In Babulal vs W.I.T Ltd[1]., it was observed that the statement of law in section 6 of the act is referred to as Res Gestae. Section 6 emphasises on relevance of facts forming part of the same transaction and reads as “Facts which, though not in issue, are so connected with a fact in issue as to form part of the same transaction, are relevant, whether they occurred at the same time and place of at different times and places”. As established in the earlier examples, a bystander’s statement taken immediately after the crime enfolded would be relevant due to the rule of res gestae.

The rationale behind this is that such a statement is extempore, therefore, the person making the statement, the bystander, in this case, would not get enough time for concocting a statement. The statement made by the bystander must be contemporaneous with the crime, only then would the court admit it into evidence. A similar observation was made by the court in Prem Chand v. State (NCT of Delhi)[2]. In this case, it was held that the principle of law embodied in section 6 propounds those declarations which are contemporaneous or almost contemporaneous with the transaction in issue, provided, the interval between the two is short enough for there is no scope for fabrication, would be admissible as res gestae. It is pertinent to note that the statement made after some time may be admissible under Section 157 of the Act but not Section 6.

The rule of Res Gestae is not restricted to bystander statements; it also extends to an “act done by someone in the process”. For instance, if the question revolves around whether certain goods ordered from ‘Y’ were delivered to ‘Z’ and the goods were delivered to several intermediate persons successively. Here, each and every delivery is a relevant fact. In another instance where ‘X’ is accused of waging war against the Government of India by taking part in an armed insurrection which led to the destruction of property and troops were attacked. The occurrence of these facts is relevant, as they form a part of the general transaction, though ‘X’ may not have been present at all of them. Therefore, it is well established that it is essential to examine a transaction and determine when such a transaction starts and ends. As the Doctrine of Res Gestae includes the elements that fall outside the modern hearsay definition, it includes circumstantial evidence of the state of mind, verbal parts of acts, and certain non-verbal conduct.

In order to understand and interpret Section 6 of the Act in its entirety, it is essential to understand the meaning of the following terms and phrases:

1. Transaction

The term “transaction” as used in Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act is defined understood to include a crime, a contract, wrong or any other subject of enquiry which may be in issue. Further, it may include both immediate cause and effect of an act or event, collection of relevant circumstances, other essential antecedents of its occurrence, connected with the actual crime in question, at a reasonable span of time, pace and cause and effect. Not only is the proximity of time relevant, but also the continuity of action and purpose.

The start and end of a transaction differ from case to case and can only be determined by the facts of each case.

In Amrita v. R[3] it was duly noted that a transaction may constitute one incident occurring for a few moments or it may be spread over a variety of acts, declarations etc. All these would be deemed to be incidents. Although they strictly do not constitute a fact in an issue, they tend to explain or qualify such a fact. These incidents or facts are relevant only when they are linked by the proximity of time, unity or proximity of place, continuity of action and community of purpose or design.

In order to understand what kind of transaction would be admissible as per Section 6 of the Act, we may understand it with the help of an example. In the first instance, Mr. A, while on his way back home, notices a man lying hurt on the side of a highway and because the man was crying for help, Mr. A decides to rush to his help, while moving closer he notices soft whispers from the person saying that “Y hurt him”. In the second instance, Mr. A voluntary goes up to the man and asks him “What’s wrong?” There lies a minuscule difference between the two situations at hand.

In first instance, the transaction was still continuing. As the man was under the stress of excitement and the statement made by him was a reaction to the crime. Whereas, in the second instance, the statement made by the man was merely a response to the question asked by Mr.A. From the second instance, it may be induced that the transaction ended as there was an intervention by a third person as Mr. A asked a question as to what was wrong with him and the response was not a reaction to the situation but an answer or response to Mr. A’s question. If a statement is a reaction to the situation, only then would it form a part of the same transaction. On the other hand, if the statement is a response to the question, the transaction would end with the intervention of a third party (Mr. A in the aforementioned example). Consequently, such statements may not be made admissible under Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act.

2. Bystander

The word “bystander” has been used in Section 6(a) of the Indian Evidence Act. It simply means all the persons present at the time of the incident. In an incident where a number of people came to the spot immediately after a murder and were told by the eyewitnesses who the two culprits were, the evidence would be considered relevant. Furthermore, re-establishing the fact that the declaration must be substantially contemporaneous with the fact in issue and must tend to elaborate, depict or ascertain the fact in issue.

In Mahedra Pal vs State[4], the crime scene was filled with not just the deceased and the eyewitnesses but also various other people. The people who came immediately after the murder and were informed by the eye-witnesses as to who the two accused were. Their deposition was said to fall within the ambit of Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act.

In the case of Nathuni Yadav vs State of Bihar[5], the sound of gunshots from the house of the victim, alarmed the victim’s neighbours and he ran to the spot within minutes. The victim identified the assailants who had shot at him and his wife, his statement to them was considered relevant under Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act.

3. Statement Showing Motive and Intention

If a person’s statement goes to indicate that he intends to do something in the future, it may not be admissible as evidence of him doing that thing. In Wainwright’s case[6], a girl informed her mother that she was going to visit Wainwright. This statement was held to be inadmissible because the intention was not directly relevant. Here, the debatable issue was, whether the meeting with Wainwright actually took place. The statement of intention may or may not been carried out, and the event they did not accompany, follow or define the fact in question. Although, in Buckley case[7], it was held that the statement made by the police officer about him going to meet Buckley in course of his duty would be admissible as there is a likelihood that a police officer who says he has to meet someone in course of his duty would end up actually doing it. As the declaring may change his mind between the declaration and the act, the statements which are not contemporaneous with an act cannot define the motive with which the act was done.

What determines admissibility?

In order to decide whether the testimony declaration or statement made by the witness is admissible under Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act, the courts must decide on the following points:

1. Irrespective of whether the declaration is oral or written, the court must decide on whether it is relevant to the facts and the issue pertaining to relevant the act in question. Such a declaration must be linked to the fact it accompanies. If it is simply concerning or following independent facts, it may not be considered relevant to the case, deeming it unfit to be admissible under the Doctrine of Res Gestae, unless such facts are a part of a transaction which is continuous.

2. It is of grave importance for the declaration to be substantially contemporaneous with the fact and not simply the narrative of a past. It is a common notion that the declaration made would only be made by a third party, like a by sander. But it is possible that the declaration and the act maybe by the same person. For e.g., the declarations of the victim or assailant.

3. Declarations made may not be understood to be the absolute truth unless otherwise established.

Exceptions to the time-bound characteristic of Doctrine of Res Gestae

When a statement (out of court) is made by a person in response to a startling or shocking event or condition, it is considered to be admissible. Such a statement may be referred to as an excited utterance and is an exception to the hearsay rule. Since most cases of domestic violence and sexual assault involve a shocking event and often leave the victim in a state of shock, they include the issue of excited utterances. In such cases, as only the victim could identify the alleged culprit, the testimony of the victims must be made admissible in court. It can so happen that the victim may not react immediately after rape or sexual violence, as such crimes often leave a grave impact on the mind of the victim which may hinder their thinking process for a while, and the victim may even be in denial due to the gravity of the crime. Subsequently, the victim may respond after a reasonable amount of time. Therefore, such a statement ought to be admitted under the Doctrine of Res Gestae if it can be proved that the victim could not make the statement immediately due to the gruesome impact of the crime on their mind. Therefore, the Doctrine of Res Gestae creates a blanket of protection over the victims of such heinous crimes.

A testimony was given by a child often forms an exception to the general rule laid down in this doctrine. In Uttam Singh vs State of Madhya Pradesh[8], when the incident enfolded, the child witness was sleeping with his father and was awakened by the sound of the blow of the axe on his father’s neck. The child screamed for help by naming the accused as the assailant. On hearing him scream family members and other witnesses gathered at the crime scene. The evidence, in this case, was held to be admissible as a part of the same transaction. Here, the screaming on the part of the child was considered natural and probable. Emphasis must be laid on the fact that even if the child witness failed to react immediately but spoke later, it could still be admissible under Section 6 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Conclusion

Predominantly, the Doctrine of Res Gestae came into existence to prevent injustice from being done due to lack of evidence. It has since been applied by the court in several judgements and has evolved with time. It has its little limitation in the form of the time barring characteristic it possesses, but at the same time, in order to preserve justice, the courts have evolved this doctrine and a few exceptions have been introduced. The Doctrine of Res Gestae was recognised for the common good of all, hence, all caution must be taken by the courts to ensure that it is not misused or broadened to an unlimited extent.

[1]1956 INDLAW CAL 105

[2]2014(5) AD(Delhi) 352

[3]Amritala vs R 42 C 957

[4]Mahendra Pal vs State AIR 1955 All 328

[5]Nathuni Yadav vs State of Bihar 1996 INDLAW SC 1562

[6]1875 13 Cox CC 171

[7]1873 13 Cox CC 293

[8]2002 INDLAW MP 79

REFERENCES

https://legaldictionary.net/7413-2/

https://m.openjurist.org/law-dictionary/hearsay

https://barprephero.com/legal-terms/evidence/excited-utterance/

https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1536853/

Sharma, Sharda Girijesh, Res Gestae in Indian Evidence Act (November 11, 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1299111 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1299111

This article has been written by Aayushi Mittra, 3rd Year BLS LLB student at Pravin Gandhi College Of Law

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