Contradictions between two statements of a witness play a crucial role in deciding the fate of a criminal case or trial. Contradictions can be categorised into two: direct contradictions and contradictions by omissions. Making some sort of alterations or improvements in the prior and later statements by a witness can also be termed as contradiction and omission. Quite naturally, an interested witness may make some improvements in his testimony of the incident under trial. In order to avoid this, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 lays down some procedures for proving contradictions and omissions in a trial.
The contradictions or omissions can be proved in two stages. In the first stage, the contradiction is brought on record as provided for in the Indian Evidence Act. In the second stage the contradiction is then proved by cross examining the Police Officer who has recorded the statements under Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC). If the latter is not done, the contradictions or omissions brought on record cannot be treated as proved before the court.
What proving a fact means
Proving a fact in a court or trial precisely refers to the act of producing evidence – both oral and documentary – before it by the party to prove the fact in a manner the court believes it to exist. The party trying to prove anything must confine his production of evidence relating to the relevant and admissible fact alone.
Any witness who can testify any admissible fact relevant to the dispute can be brought before the court as a witness to produce oral testimony. Based on the merit or quality of such testimony the court may tend to believe it as true version of the disputed fact. The merit or quality of the witness testimony is a crucial factor that lends credence to the evidence brought before a court.
Neither wholly reliable nor totally unreliable evidence
The court can easily accept or reject wholly reliable or wholly unreliable oral testimony. But an oral testimony which is partially reliable and partially unreliable needs to be cautiously examined by the court to sift the truth out of it and discard the chaff.
Such sort of testimony needs to be considered as evidence only after putting the testimony to the test of contradictions, omission and corroboration. The testing is done in order to check the veracity of the testimony so as to treat its successful portion as evidence and to leave the other part aside.
Three phases of an oral examination
Any witness called for taking oral testimony will be put to examination in chief, cross examination and re-examination. The latter two are optional.
The examination in chief must be confined to relevant facts but the cross examination need not be confined to what is stated in the examination in chief alone. However the re-examination must be confined to what is stated in the cross examination alone usually.
What is meant by contradiction?
Contradiction essentially means the same witness makes two contradicting statements in two different stages in a proceeding. When a witness contradicts in his statements, the previous statement remains inconsistent with his oral testimony in the court. The contradictions usually arise between the evidence given on oath at the trial and the statements recorded by the Police during investigation under Section 161 of CrPC.
The Section 145 of the Indian Evidence Act lays down the provision for handling contradiction. The section lays down that a witness may be cross examined as to his previous statement made in writing or reduced to writing, in order to contradict his testimony before the court with his previous statement relevant to the matter in dispute, before it is duly proved. Such cross examination would help the court to know whether the witness is telling the truth or not. This section applies only when both the statements on the same fact show some inconsistency.
In a judicial proceeding the previous statement of a witness can be used only for two purposes: one is to contradict the witness (for consequent impeachment of the credit of him) and the other is for corroboration of a fact in issue by the prosecution.
A clear contradiction on a substantive fact can demolish the case made out in the examination-in-chief. The contradiction proved from the Police Statements is not substantive evidence though it would largely help in the impeachment of the credit of the witness. The Police Statement can be used only for proving contradiction but not for corroboration.
Contradiction disproves a fact and discredits a witness
The purpose of proving contradictions are twofold: one is to make a substantive piece of evidence that a witness testified as unworthy of consideration and the other is to discredit the witness as being unreliable. If a contradiction is brought in reliably, the court will hold the substantive evidence of the witness in the court relating to it as unreliable. The previous statement to the police during investigation serves the purpose of throwing doubt on the veracity of the witness.
When contradiction is brought in for impeaching the credit of the witness it pulls down his reliability in the court and makes his substantive testimony in the court unreliable.
Bringing contradiction or omission in evidence
During the cross examination, the advocate for defendant can cross examine the witness with any question relevant to the disputed fact in order to bring out either contradictions or omissions in the statement of the witness recorded in the court and recorded before the investigating officer earlier.
If the witness admits his previous statement as being made, such previous statement need not be proved by the cross examiner and he need not show the part of the document where the statement is recorded to him. If so, the cross examiner’s job is finished and the witness can be left to re-examination.
If he denies having said the statement previously, then the cross examiner should read out the relevant portion of the statement which is alleged to be contradicting to statement made in the court and give him opportunity to explain anything to reconcile the contradiction, if he can. Then the cross examiner should request the presiding judge to mark the said part of the statement for identification.
In order to prove the contradiction, the advocate shall subsequently put questions to the investigating officer who had recorded the statement of the witness, as to whether the portion marked is true extract and it was recorded by him.
The statement made before a police officer cannot be used for contradicting a defence or a court witness. The defendant alone can use contradiction as a tool to pull down a prosecution witness.
SC lays down the procedure of proving contradiction
The Supreme Court, in V. K. Mishra and another v State of Uttarakhand and another (AIR 2015 S.C. 3043), has laid down the procedure of bringing on record contradictions and omissions. The paragraph 18 of the judgment states the proceedure as follows:-
"18. Under Section 145 of the Evidence Act when it is intended to contradict the witness by his previous statement reduced into writing, the attention of such witness must be called to those parts of it which are to be used for the purpose of contradicting him, before the writing can be used. While recording the deposition of a witness, it becomes the duty of the trial court to ensure that the part of the police statement with which it is intended to contradict the witness is brought to the notice of the witness in his cross-examination. The attention of witness is to be drawn to that part and this must reflect in his cross-examination by reproducing it. If the witness admits the part intended to contradict him, it stands proved and there is no need to further proof of contradiction and it will be read while appreciating the evidence. If he denies having made that part of the statement, his attention must be drawn to that statement and must be mentioned in the deposition. By this process the contradiction is merely brought on record, but it is yet to be proved. Thereafter, when investigating officer is examined in the court, his attention should be drawn to the passage marked for the purpose of contradiction, it will then be proved in the deposition of the investigating officer who again by referring to the police statement will depose about the witness having made that statement. The process again involves referring to the police statement and culling out that part with which the maker of the statement was intended to be contradicted. If the witness was not confronted with that part of the statement with which the defence wanted to contradict him, then the court cannot suo moto make use of statements to police not proved in compliance with Section 145 of Evidence Act that is, by drawing attention to the parts intended for contradiction."
Ignore insignificant contradictions and omissions
The discrepancies which do not go to the root of the matter and shake the basic version of the witnesses cannot be annexed with undue importance, particularly when the factor of probabilities goes in favour of the version narrated by the witnesses. (Please see Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v State of Gujarat: AIR 1983 SC 753)
Consider the testimony as a whole
The Supreme Court states that in appreciation of evidence, the approach must be whether the evidence of the witness considered in toto, appears to have a ring of truth. Once such an impression is formed, the court should scrutinize the evidence keeping in view the deficiencies, drawbacks and infirmities brought out in the evidence as a whole and evaluate them so as to find out whether it goes against the general tenor of the evidence rendered by him and whether the earlier evaluation of the evidence is shaken as to render it unworthy of belief.
The court adds that minor discrepancies on trivial matters not touching the core of the case, hyper-technical approach by taking sentences torn out of context here or there from the evidence and attaching undue importance to some technical error committed by the investigating officer not going to the root of the matter would not ordinarily permit rejection of the evidence as a whole. (Please see State of U P v M K Anthony: AIR 1985 SC 48)
Contradiction by omission
The contradiction by omission can be proved by bringing on record the whole of the statement by confining its use to the actual absence of the statement in the court.
Subsequently the police officer may be asked to refer to the statement of the witness in the diary for refreshing his memory by asking whether such statement was made.
Corroboration means establishing or strengthening anything with any other evidence or facts. The Section 157 of the Indian Evidence Act deals with corroboration of evidence.
A former statement given by a witness before any authority competent to investigate the case at or about the time when the fact took place, needs to be proved in order to corroborate any later testimony (relating to the same fact or event) given by the witness in the court. Then the former statement is admitted as corroborative evidence when it is consistent with the later testimony. Corroborative evidence stands on a sound proposition that one who is consistent deserves to be believed. If a witness gives inconsistent statements he cannot be relied for eliciting truth.
First Information Statement (FIS) is not a substantive piece of evidence. It can only be used to corroborate the statement of the maker in the court. When the FIS is corroborated it will become a corroborative piece of evidence which the court can make use of. If not corroborated, the FIS remains as a mere statement which the court cannot rely on as evidence.
Similarly, a statement of one witness given can be corroborated with that of another witness under Section 164 of the CrPC. However the statement given by the witness under Section 161 of the CrPC cannot be used for corroboration.
If contradictions and omissions can be brought in, they may change the course of the case for the defence who has been accused with a charge in a false case.
The proof of contradiction is vital to destroy the credibility of the prosecution. Proved contradictions and omissions play a crucial role while the Judge decides the case by appreciating the evidence he has recorded throughout the trial.
Cross examination is a great art in the scheme of prosecution. It is a deft and delicate art which requires a sense of decorum, decency and profound responsibility. Proving contradiction and omission in the statements of the witnesses makes the art of cross examination a delightful process.
The author can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org