Indian Evidence Act, 1872: What is its Significance?
The Indian society of the early 1800s was one that was based on the traditions and customs practices by the different sections of the society. The Indian society was divided into various groups on multiple grounds. The fundamental division was that of Caste which divided the population into the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. These divisions not only described the different economic conditions and tasks of the individuals but also decided the different traditions and customs practiced and the ways in which they are practiced.
This becomes important to understand in order to be able to appreciate the significance of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The judicial system, at the time of passing the Indian Evidence Act, was still under British rule. During this period the judiciary was also headed and run by English officials who judged cases on the basis of the different customs followed by the parties involved in each case. Therefore, it can be said that the judiciary of Colonial India was subjective in nature.
The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 established that proofs in judicial cases must be uniform in order to be just and unbiased towards the parties. This would also help in delivering justice equitably in cases with similar facts. Thus, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 was introduced to overrule the pre-existing system of adjudicating on the basis of the customs followed by the respective parties. Now, irrespective of the class, caste and religion of the parties, the evidence that was required to prove certain facts and claims in the case was the same. The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 promotes the basic values in India such as that secularism, equality, etc. It lies in line with the basic structure of the Fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
Evidence: Meaning and Definitions
In layman’s terms, ‘Evidence’ refers to the body of facts and information that helps in determining if a belief or proposition is true or valid. However, in legal terms, ‘Evidence’ has a more detailed definition. It defines the two broad types of evidence that are admissible in a court of law within the territory of India. Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 states that ‘Evidence’ includes oral and documentary evidence.
Evidence is very closely connected to the concept of ‘Burden of Proof’. Chapter VII of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 containing sections from Section 101 to Section 114-A deals with the matter of the burden of proof. It discussed the different situations in which the burden of proof shifts and also stated which party in the dispute bears the burden of proof. This becomes important for the concept of evidence as the presence of burden of proof implies that the party having such burden has the duty to present the evidence before the Court. The outcome of their case is determined by the evidence they present in the concerned matter. Therefore, it also becomes essential to note that the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is not criminal or civil legislation. It equally applies to both civil and criminal matters. Evidence is required to be presented by either or both parties in some cases irrespective of the nature of their dispute.
Types of Evidence
As mentioned above, Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 defines evidence of two broad types, namely: Oral and Documentary. However, in the further sections of the Act, reference has also been made to other types of evidence such as Primary (Direct), Secondary (Indirect), Hearsay and Circumstantial Evidence.
1. Oral evidence
Sub-clause (1) of Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 describes oral evidence as all the statements that are accepted by a Court of law or require to be made before the court by any witness.
2. Documentary Evidence
Sub-clause (2) of Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 defines documentary evidence as all the documents that are produced before a Court of law for its inspection.
3. Direct Evidence
Direct evidence is that kind of evidence which is directly connected to the issue at hand. For instance, in the case of a crime, direct evidence can be given through a witness who has seen the crime being committed. The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 allows for oral evidence to be only direct.
In the case of documents, direct evidence is referred to as primary evidence. This kind of evidence refers to the original document itself.
4. Indirect Evidence
The evidence that is obtained by a party that is not directly connected to the matter at hand is called indirect evidence. In the case of oral evidence, indirect evidence is called hearsay. This can be explained through the following illustration:
In the case of A v. B, if B and C were talking about the matter at hand and X overheard the said conversation, then the testimony given by X will be considered as hearsay. It was also adjudged in the case of Bhugdomal Gangaram v. State of Gujarat (1984) 1 SCC 319 that the testimony of a person based on information from another person is not admissible in the Court of law.
Expert Opinion under Indian Evidence Act, 1872
While indirect evidence is inadmissible in criminal cases as per the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, indirect evidence in documentary form is admissible. Thus, it is not referred to as indirect evidence but instead called secondary evidence. This implies that the secondary evidence is a copy of the original document in a certain form as permitted by the law.
A special kind of evidence that is mentioned under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is that of ‘Expert Opinion’. In order to understand this concept, it is vital to understand the meaning of an expert first. An Expert is an individual who has made the subject upon which he speaks a matter of study, practice or observation and has a special knowledge of the subject. The opinion of such an individual becomes important in a case where clarifications on specific aspects are required. Therefore, several experts are approached for their opinion and guidance towards their respective areas of study in cases that need such guidance. Such experts are approached more often for criminal cases than for civil cases.
The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 permits the guidance of several such experts and admits them as witnesses in specific matters. Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 describes expert opinions. Under this provision, expert opinions are admissible in a court of law when they require an opinion on handwriting, finger impressions and others especially skilled in foreign law, science or art.
Section 45-A further discusses the fact that the opinion of the Examiner of Electronic Evidence as referred to in Section 79-A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is admissible and relevant to cases that concern the transmission and storage of information in any computer resource or any electronic or digital form. In such matters, the Examiner of Electronic Evidence is to be considered as an expert witness.
Similarly, Section 46 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 states that if there are certain facts that are irrelevant in a particular case, they will still be considered relevant to the case if they are consistent or inconsistent with the opinion of the expert involved in the concerned case. Furthermore, Section 47 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 also deals with the special opinion of an individual acquainted with the handwriting of the person by whom the document is to be written or signed. All of the above-mentioned provisions, when read with Section 51 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, discussed the grounds for an opinion to be relevant to a particular case.
Landmark Judgements on Expert Opinion
The judgements in the following cases set important guidelines and criteria for the efficient application of expert opinion under the Indian Evidence Act in any particular matter:
- State of Karnataka v. J. Jayalalitha (2017) 6 SCC 263, In this case, the Supreme Court had held that an expert is not a witness of fact and that his evidence is only of advisory nature. It was further held that the expert only has the duty to furnish the Court with scientific test criteria for testing the accuracy of conclusions. It was finally held that the Court should not rely solely on the opinion of the expert. The same was also held in the case of Jalapathi Reddy v. Baddam Pratapa Reddy (2019) 14 SCC 220.
- In the case of Ram Narain v. State of U.P. (1973) 2 SCC 86, it was held that the opinion of a handwriting expert must be given equal importance as the testimony of any other witness in the concerned case.
- It was further held in the case of Tomaso Bruno v State of U.P. (2015) 7 SCC 178, that while the Courts give due regard to the testimony of the experts, they are not bound by the same.
The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 proved to be a legislation of change during its time. It has helped re-frame the structure of the judicial system of Colonized India which has in turn had a severe impact on its application in the judicial system of independent India. The application of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 has resulted in the unbiased and fair delivery of justice to all members of society. While there are also cases of corruption and injustice in the recent past due to technicalities that are included in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the provisions have widely helped in the delivery of justice to Indian society. The concept of expert opinion in specific has been of immense benefit to society in justifying the facts in cases where relevant facts are missing or unable to be accessed. This has further helped in easing the process of justice delivery even in situations of difficulty.