A division bench at the Supreme Court consisting of Justice R. Banumathi and Justice Indira Banerjee has held in the judgment of the case – Ram Lal v. State of Himachal Pradesh, delivered on October 3, 2018, that the law does not require that evidence of an extra-judicial confession by accused should be corroborated in all cases.
It is well settled that conviction can be based on a voluntarily made confession, but the rule of prudence requires that wherever possible, it should be corroborated by independent evidence. In its judgment of the case-Madan Gopal Kakkad v.Naval Dubey and Another- (1992) 3 SCC 204, deriving support from the decision in the case – Piara Singh and Others v. State of Punjab- (1977) 4 SCC 452, the Apex-Court concluded that the rule of prudence does not require that each and every circumstance mentioned in the confession must be separately and independently corroborated.
If the court is happy that if the confession is voluntary, the conviction can be based upon the same. Rule of prudence doesn’t need that each and every circumstance mentioned within the confession with respect to the participation of the defendant should be singly and severally supported.
Two appeals, in this case, arose from the judgment passed by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh at Shimla on December 22, 2008 in criminal appeals 710-12/2000 in and by which the HC had affirmed the judgment delivered by the trial court convicting the appellant under section 13(1)(C) read with section 13(2) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988and under sections 409 and 477-A IPC and therefore the sentence of imprisonment obligatory upon him.
Briefly the prosecution case is that the accused was employed as peon in the UCO Bank in January 1987. He was assigned the job of the clerk, as there was a shortage of clerical staff in the bank and his job was of manning the Savings Bank accounts counter. His job was to receive money from the account holders for deposit in Savings Bank accounts. He used to make entries in their passbooks in his own hand but would not account money in the account books of the bank nor did he pass it to the cashier.
It was alleged that neither the appellant filled the pay-in-slips nor was any deposit made in the scroll, daily cash receipt book and the cash payment book maintained by the cashier and he used to pocket that money. When the depositors approached him for withdrawals of cash, he would make fake credit entries in the ledger accounts and fill in the withdrawal slips and submit the same to the officer concerned for payment. The Passing Officer misled by the pretend ledger entry would enable the withdrawals. This way, the appellant caused wrongful loss to the bank to the tune of Rs.38,500/- during the year 1994.
When the fraud came to light, a Committee of two officers – R.C. Chhabra and M.P. Sethi was deputed to carry a preliminary enquiry and therefore the Committee noticed bungling of accounts by the appellant. After that, the Enquiry Committee recommended thorough investigation in the matter.
After the preliminary enquiry, FIR was registered against the appellant under sections 409, 468, 471, 477-A IPC and under section 13(1) (C) read with section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. After investigation, the appellant was charge-sheeted for the said offences.
To prove the guilt of the accused, the prosecution examined 13 witnesses and produced documentary evidence. After considering the evidence –both oral and documentary, the trial court held that the appellant in his capacity as a public servant had misappropriated the money entrusted to him, in discharge of his duty, as a public servant.
The trial court convicted him for the offences for falsification of accounts with intent to defraud the bank and he was sentenced to undergo RI for a period of two years along with a fine of Rs. 5,000/-. For the offence of criminal breach of trust he was sentenced to suffer RI for 5 years with a fine of Rs. 5,000/- and every one the sentences were directed to run at the same time.
However, the appellant was acquitted for the offences under sections 468 and 471 of the IPC for the charge of forgery by holding that the expert opinion was not precise. Being aggrieved, the appellant filed appeal, which was dismissed by the HC through the impugned judgment.
Extra-judicial confession may be a weak piece of proof and therefore the court should make sure that an equivalent conjures up confidence and is supported by alternative prosecution proof. In order to simply accept extra-judicial confession, it must be voluntary and must inspire confidence. If the court is satisfied that the extra-judicial confession is voluntary, it can be acted upon to base the conviction considering the admissibility and evidentiary value of extra-judicial confession.
In the case at hand, as pointed out by the trial court as well as by the HC, the prosecution witnesses R.K. Soni and R.C. Chhabra were the senior officers of the bank and when they reached the bank for inspection on April 23, 1994, the accused submitted his confessional statement. Likewise, in the inquiry conducted by R.C. Chhabra, the accused had given a confession statement.
At any stage, it was not suggested to R.K. Soni that the confession statement was the outcome of some threat or pressure. The trial court as well. As the HC concurrently held that the confession statements were voluntarily made and that same can form the basis for conviction. The Court failed to notice “any sensible ground warranting interference with the aforesaid synchronic findings.
Considering the passage of time and the facts and circumstances of the case, the sentence of imprisonment on the appellant was reduced to 3 years.
In the result, the Supreme Court has confirmed the conviction of the appellant under section 13(1)(C) read with section 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and sentence of imprisonment of two years. The conviction under sections 477-A IPC and 409 IPC has been confirmed and the sentence of imprisonment under section 409 IPC is reduced to three years. Accordingly, the appeals in the appeal have been partly allowed. The appellant has been asked to surrender himself within 4 weeks to serve the remaining sentence. Failing that he should be taken into custody.